Outfoxed – Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox

Cover of Mr FoxHelen Oyeyemi’s Mr Fox works itself around fairy tales and the club story, drawing sustenance from two of the re-discovered ways of telling the fantastic tale. When Mary Foxe contacts St John Fox to get him to read her stories, Fox’s pulp world unravels into story and interpretation. St John has a reputation for going through wives. Mary considers the fairy tale to be a way of seeing as the world as everybody “was in disguise, or on their way to be someone else” (p 64) as she begins a slight cat and mouse game with St John.

In odd moments, Oyeyemi adds in a fairy tale such as the Fitcher’s Bird where Mary knowingly places her self into the role of the young bride and accepts her fate, which comes across as somewhat Freudian. It reflects on the way that a lone English governess might be seen in 1930s New York but one gets the sense that Mary is more in control of the world that St John is.

Although he or Bluebeard comes across as the powerful figure, he cannot understand his wife Daphne. His jealousy and lack of being able to communicate means that he is left as she spins her life out of control. Although one is tempted to go down the Angela Carter route of influence, the end notes suggest Anne Sexton’s Transformations, a poetry collection of fairy tales,  as a source.

She refers to two ways in which women resist men’s attempts to dominate them. In one direction, she explores madness and depression and the inner world. One is never quite sure what is perceived and real In the other, Mary takes control of the story and uses the club or frame story to embed the world in a way which requires archaeology to recover it. The challenge is set and St John, and by extension the reader, must be able to find it.

For the author, it seems that the unreal allows the author to explore the ways that the story of the world might be written. Oyeyemi builds on perceived tragic biographies of Sexton and Sylvia Plath, and the potential reactions of the external and internal worlds, as perhaps revealed by Ted Hughes in his Birthday Letters. Equally she draws from Marina Warner and follows in the tradition of Angela Carter in revealing the world to be capable of being controlled by those who understand its stories and how to manipulate them.

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