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Book Review: ‘Peaces’, by Helen Oyeyemi

By Helen Oyeyemi

The fairy tale has seen its fair share of modern reinterpretations, from feminist and feminist narratives to the postmodern experiences of writers like Angela Carter and Robert Coover, who have tested the limits of familiar narratives, twisting their hidden joints and hinges into endless variations. on the subject. . And if these authors took the form to its recombinant and orgiastic extremes, one could also argue that they have fully mapped its terrain. What more was there to do with the fairy tale now that it had been dismantled, rebuilt, reversed, and passed through a blender?

Helen Oyeyemi, the award-winning Anglo-Nigerian author of six previous novels, a pair of plays and a collection of stories, has built a reputation for answering this question in new and unusual ways. In his hands, the realm of tradition and the so-called “real world” exert gravitational pull on each other, resulting in unexpected fusions of Bluebeard and Yoruban folk tales, Tinder dolls and talking and complex and unconventional characters who set the course. recognizable tales emerging from the ruts and grooves of a well-traveled road.

With his latest novel, Oyeyemi moves away from these familiar forms, but not from the playful reinvention of genres and tropes. “Peaces” takes place on Lucky Day, an esoteric, dilapidated, Wes Anderson-esque train whose ontological status is perched halfway between the abstraction of a thought-object and the undeniably concrete world of lettuce, cabins, boards. Go and saunas on board. While vast, perhaps limitless, and filled with a seemingly endless number of whimsical and fantastical cars, the train is also subject to real-world burdens, such as the huge debt accrued from its renovation and maintenance. It contains at least five passengers: Otto and Xavier Shin, lovebirds newly joined by name (but not by marriage) who received this “non-honeymoon honeymoon” trip from a wealthy aunt; Ava Kapoor, recluse owner of the train; her lover, Allegra Yu; and a taciturn legal representative named Laura De Souza. In addition to the Lucky Day human cargo, there are not one but two pet mongooses on board.

The first half of the novel borrows its momentum from the train itself, rushing towards an unknown destination of unknown import, back and forth between the quirky decorated wagon interiors and the enigmatic playful interiority of the characters. Oyeyemi is a master of leaps of thought and inference, of sneaky speed, and the long story setup has the bewildering quality of walking in a moving vehicle while carrying a very hot cup of tea to the brim. We learn that Otto once bumped into a burning building for some obscure reason, that Xavier was brought up in part by Parisian crooks, but at first the wires don’t match – they scramble and get dirty, like things through the glass, like they do here. description of a train journey since Xavier’s childhood: “Through the window, he saw the grass turn into water, the water into concrete, the concrete into lean trees, then the hedges, from leaf to stone. , then back, the landscape donning uninspired gray, brown, black and blue uniforms as he jogged along the train, no longer widening the horizon but leveling it.

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