What is Not Yours is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi

I’ve been a fan of Helen Oyeyemi since I discovered Mr. Fox a couple of years ago. She has a gift for turning stories inside out so that you can see their guts and ponder how they work, while also dropping bits of truth here and there. That said, her short story collection What is Not Yours is Not Yours is…not my favorite.While the stories are linked and characters reappear here and there, the collection lacked coherence for me. Tonally, some stories are vaguely fairy-tale like. Others are bluntly literal. As I read the stories, I felt a recurring fear that I wasn’t smart enough to pick up on the deeper links between the stories that I suspected were there.

I did enjoy some of the stories in this collection. I liked the feminist commentary in “A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society” and “If a Book is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think.” In both of these stories, women take the cruel things that have been said to and about them and turn them into power.

There are elements of some of the other stories that I enjoyed, but I got lost in “Books and Roses” and “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” because the focus kept shifting from one character to another. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be paying attention to. Because the jacket copy told me the stories were linked, I spend a lot of time waiting for characters to come back and finally reveal their secrets. Sometimes that happened. Most of the time, however, I was frustrated that this didn’t happen.

I am a mite disappointed in this collection. The stories at the end of the book, especially “Homely Wench” and “If a Book is Locked,” made up (a bit) for the unkept promises of the first stories.


3 thoughts on “What is Not Yours is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi

    • I recommend Boy, Snow, Bird as the best place to start with Oyeyemi. It’s her most accessible book and shows you what she can do with a fairy tale. I really liked Mr. Fox, but you have to be in the right mood for it. It’s challenging, even though I think it’s absolutely worth the effort.


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