Mr Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi
Mr Fox begins in 1938 as celebrated author St John Fox sits in his study, pondering bleakly on his latest work, when he receives an unexpected visit from his delightfully offbeat and wholly imaginary muse, Mary Foxe. Mary has a bone to pick with the villainously imaginative Mr Fox: “You kill women. You’re a serial killer. Can you grasp that?” She clearly doesn’t like the way his literary career has developed. She challenges him to join her in a series of stories of their own devising where the various romances that they conjure put Mr Fox through his paces and challenge his notions of love.
A happy marriage can be hard to achieve at the best of times but, with the delectable Miss Mary back on the scene, it’s no wonder that Daphne Fox, St John’s long-suffering wife, is more worried than usual. Concerned about her [still imaginary] rival’s reappearance in her husband’s life, Daphne throws herself into the storytelling ring.
The narrative of Mr Fox switches between St John’s everyday life and his storytelling duel with Mary. The transition may initially be a little puzzling, but it quickly becomes apparent that chapters with titles cover Mr Fox’s fantastical fictional voyages while the nameless chapters are rooted within the realm of his reality. As the stories progress, it becomes clear that St John is a slave to his imagination and that Daphne has ever reason to be worried – it seems that her husband is incapable of being satisfied with what he has already got. Not all of the tories told by St John and Mary completely gel together within the context of he novel as a whole, but they are still great vignettes.
While Mr Fox is certainly far less spooky that Helen Oyeyemi’s previous novel, White is for Witching, a sense of menace still hangs over the life of St John Fox and there are definitely some gruesome moments to be found in his writing and thus, one infers, in his mind. Oyeyemi has recreated the atmosphere of the era excellently and infused the novel with great period detail; her rendition of Manhattan is a delight.
Mr Fox is a love story like no other. It is an endlessly inventive, mischievous story and Helen Oyeyemi has once again proved her prowess with magical realism.