by Helen Oyeyemi
Harriet Lee from Gingerbread
“Half of the hatred that springs up between people is rooted in their mistaken belief that there is any human relationship more sacred than friendship.”
Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy, but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make.
Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.
Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value.
Hmmm, where do I begin? I anticipated this book from last year, so when I reached the end of this bizarre utopian journey and I was left with crickets chirping in my head, I was so disappointed. I honestly felt like I was taking a walk in the woods (high), bumped my head and fell through a rabbit hole only to find that I’m in a twisted(not in a good way) adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (even more messed up than the movie….oops *covers mouth)
I’ll try my best to explain the plot of this book (the mere fact that I can is a wonder I’m not in a straitjacket). Gingerbread invites us into the world of Harriet Lee, our apt gingerbread maker, a skill she has learnt from her mother and one that feeds her daughter, Perdita’s gingerbread obsession even though she has been diagnosed with celiac disease.
The Lee’s live in London although Harriet and Margot were born in the elusive land of Druhastrana (the other side in Slovak *rolls eyes). The major part of this book is about Harriet retelling her childhood in Druhastrana. (Here is where the crazy sets in)
Harriet’s bizarre childhood includes Gingerbread, a weird warehouse that is part factory, part child brothel (I kid you not), and their mantra being, “Yes we had fun, we are bona fide children and we think you’re great, please come again,” then they flash their underwear. (like what the……*insert your desired expletive). It gets even worse because what follows is a total tour of Druhastrana, a land where dolls talk (or don’t talk still confused about this one); a girl climbs into a well and emerges a changeling with two pupils in each eye (let us just pause a little bit here; Can somebody explain to me why a child would climb into a well in the first place?) and a house with movable rooms *exhales, crazy right?
Honestly, I have no qualms about the weirdness of this book (have you met me? I love weird) but my issue with it, is that it is borderline plot-less (don’t think this is a word but screw it). There was no head or tail. (Trying to make sense of this book felt like I was sticking a million needles into my brain. That is me holding back. I just couldn’t deal).
Apparently, this is her thing, Helen Oyeyemi’s books are rarely ever plot-driven. (I blame myself for not doing the research I most certainly would have dodged this bullet). But the major reason why I’m so pissed off is that Helen Oyeyemi writes so beautifully. She writes and you can immediately, feel, taste and see. She has this unique ability to transport you between worlds with such finesse and ease; but alas she isn’t a ‘plot-driven’ author *rolls eyes.
To me books are like an adventure, an epic journey promised. So when you promise me an adventure of a lifetime only to drop me off in the middle of nowhere; stranded, hungry and scrambling to make sense of it all, it hurts. Big Time!! Frankly speaking, I’m surprised I even finished this book. I thought it was going to be a DNF for sure. So to those of you who are not bothered about plot-less (yup!! I used it again, it’s my word) books, you can have a go at this one but as for me, I’m definitely not making this mistake again. PS in case you’re hoping it’s a contemporary take on the Hansel and Gretel Childhood story, Ha! Welcome to the land of disappointment.
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