Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Review of The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

If I had to sum this debut novel up in a phrase, I'd be tempted to say it's a cross between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Fight Club.

On a visit to relatives in Nigeria, Jessamy – the eight-year-old daughter of a Nigerian mother and British father – acquires a new best friend. (Perhaps that should be a first best friend: Jess is a highly intelligent but shy, even neurotic, girl who has little time for most of her peers.) But TillyTilly (she calls her that because she can't pronounce the Yoruba Titiola properly) is no ordinary girl: she's an imaginary friend, a figment of Jess's increasingly disturbed mind, a lonely spirit who's latched on to her or possibly even the ghost of Jess's sister – take your pick.

This book is at its best when describing characters and their relationships – the impatient mother, the phlegmatic father, the slightly scary grandfather and the malicious schoolmates. The author doesn't go town on her main character's unusual traits as much as Mark Haddon does in The Curious Incident – the fact that Jess covers her mouth when eating, for instance, is incidental. Ultimately, she isn't as successful a character as that book's hero because she doesn't – can't – take control of her life in the same way – she's more of a victim than a hero.

And Tilly is her victimiser. Oyeyemi is very good on children's ability to hate each other one moment then make up the next. However, the preternatural antagonist usually seems merely annoying rather than sinister. And, once you twig where the story is heading, the climax and denouement are pretty inevitable.

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