A gingerbread addict once told Harriet that eating her gingerbread is like eating revenge. “It’s like noshing on the actual and anatomical heart of somebody who scarred your beloved and thought they’d got away with it,” the gingerbread addict said. “That heart, ground to ash and shot through with darts of heat, salt, spice, and sulfurous syrup, as if honey was measured out, set ablaze, and trickled through the dough along with the liquefied spoon. You are phenomenal. You’ve ruined my life forever. Thank you.”
I don’t know about any of you, but I think I wouldn’t mind eating a piece of that gingerbread. But alas, that special gingerbread is only a small part of Helen Oyeyemi’s newest novel, Gingerbread.
I haven’t been on the Helen Oyeyemi train for very long, but I can tell you that I will be a life-long passenger. When I read her short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, I fell in love with her writing. It was no wonder that critics and readers alike adored this woman: her writing is incredible and part of me was glad I was experiencing her work for the very first time. So believe me when I tell you that I rearranged my work schedule so I could attend a reading and signing of her new book at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.
In Gingerbread, Harriet and Perdita Lee are two very strange people. They live in a seven-story walkup (had they lived in New York, no mover would even attempt to move anything for them) and come from a place called Druhástrana, a country believed to be non-existent. The gingerbread they make is pretty popular in their home country, but not so much in London. Some love it, some hate it, but no one can deny it is special somehow. But it isn’t until Perdita looks for her mother’s childhood friend, Gretel, that the story takes a different turn.
For those of you thinking this is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, you will be disappointed, but pleasantly surprised. Instead, Gingerbread is about Harriet’s youth, a life that was clearly different from most. Ms. Oyeyemi is a master at creating worlds that are very different from what we’re used to, but somehow they seem real and normal. She writes sentences that make me wish I had come up with them myself. They are rich, elegant and full of life, making Harriet’s and Perdita’s stories feel almost alive. I did get a little confused towards the last third of the book but it ended in a satisfying way.
Ginberbread is a trippy new novel that will keep you guessing about Harriet, Perdita and their very special gingerbread. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or library. I highly recommend it.