It would be impossible to discuss Gingerbread...without the mention of fairy tales ... Oyeyemi, as she has done in her earlier work, subverts these tropes through a contemporary idiom, the novel’s real enchantment is its experimentation with storytelling itself ... It is the project of Oyeyemi’s wildly inventive storytelling to superimpose the fantastical over the mundane ... The borderless nature of literature allows Oyeyemi to perform these feints and transmogrifications several times per page and undermine confidence in the storytelling method itself. Some words critics have used to describe this technique are heady, uncanny and surreal–some others might be confusing or frustrating. These words could also be used to describe the experience of dreaming, a state that Oyeyemi is skilled at evoking.
[Oyeyemi's] sentences are like grabbing onto the tail of a vibrant, living creature without knowing what you’ll find at the other end. It’s absolutely exhilarating ... Everything is alive, unpredictable, sometimes whimsical and other times sinister, and often very bizarre ... this remarkable, surprising novel cannot be summed up so easily ... Gingerbread is often funny ... But like Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum before her, Oyeyemi’s work is more than just fairy-tale whimsy and clever humor ... I looked up the meaning of Perdita’s name and laughed to myself. It is Latin for lost. That is how I felt at times in Oyeyemi’s world. A little lost ... Gingerbread is jarring, funny, surprising, unsettling, disorienting and rewarding. It requires the reader to be quick-footed and alert ... This is a wildly imagined, head-spinning, deeply intelligent novel that requires some effort and attention from its reader. And that is just one of its many pleasures.
... both stunningly beautiful and breathtakingly original ... Trying to summarize the plot of Gingerbread is like trying to describe a strange dream you had—it's nearly impossible to put something so odd and compelling into words that will actually convey the experience ... And yet Oyeyemi not only pulls it off, she does so with flying colors. She has a gift for getting readers to not only suspend their disbelief, but to throw it out the window entirely. A hugely gifted storyteller, Oyeyemi writes with an infectious glee ... Oyeyemi is a master at pacing; it's hard to put down Gingerbread for even a second ... Gingerbread is an enchanting masterpiece by an author who's refreshingly unafraid to be joyful, and it proves that Oyeyemi is one of the best English-language authors in the world today.
... a story with all the mythic force of a fairy tale, but with startling layers, human complexity, and a quiet insistence on black presence at the center of the narrative ... Gingerbread is a phenomenal book, haunting and dark and ravenous.
... a challenging, mind-bending exploration of class and female power heavily spiced with nutmeg and sweetened with molasses. If you think you know where you’re going in this forest, you’ll soon be lost. Oyeyemi has built her house out of something far more complex than candy ... dizzying ... Anyone who resists Oyeyemi’s absurdism will find Gingerbread a very bitter meal, indeed. A fan of Aimee Bender, Oyeyemi works in an adjacent realm of dreams where things simultaneously make perfect sense and no sense at all. What’s always clear, though, is Oyeyemi’s wit, often tossed off in satirical asides — sometimes silly, sometimes sharply political.
Gingerbread struggles to find its emotional sweet spot, leaning into self-conscious flourishes and a plot that occasionally feels unmoored, devoid of gravity, an Escher drawing in print. Oyeyemi loves to poke us in the eye. Only in the novel’s stirring last act, as Harriet, Margot and Perdita seek out Gretel with the help of a creepy real estate agent, Miss Maszkeradi, does Gingerbread come together ... For all her shape-shifting sentences, Oyeyemi still gives us dashes of lyricism; few writers can milk an ellipsis with such dramatic precision ... With this final hook, Gingerbread rises to the level of Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird, revealing Oyeyemi as a master of literary masquerade, forging a singular art.
... an uncanny novel ... The novel is initially a little slow to action, caught up in its world-building, but picks up the pace when Perdita seems to commit suicide by gingerbread ... Gingerbread is a Rubik’s Cube of a book, with all the frustration and delight that that toy entails. You have to stay in a very strange headspace, but like Oyeyemi’s other novels, it’s a tale that bears multiple rereadings and is more marvelous the deeper you’re willing to dive into its rearranging of reality, its derangement ... Much of Gingerbread’s beauty is found in eccentric, yet oddly dream-meaningful word pairings and images ... It’s a novel that’s difficult to follow both at a sentence level and narratively, but its challenging stories come to an incredibly satisfying conclusion ... There is a surprise at the end of Gingerbread, a kind of glorious and satisfying surprise that makes perfect sense. The novel proves to be both trick and treat, like gingerbread, true to its title.
... a rich, clever, rueful and sometimes maddening work. Lively and playful, it boasts more tangents and asides than Tristram Shandy ... Gingerbread requires careful reading and re-reading. At times it made this reader feel foolish and stodgy for wanting something as mundane as a foothold ... Oyeyemi’s prose has a generous quality. There is ease and pleasure in her sentences ... Occasionally Oyeyemi’s wild flights of fancy left me stranded on the tarmac, clutching my suitcase, rubbing my poor head. Yet this is a bold book with a great deal of depth and mischief to it that makes you think how astonishing it would be to have our parents sit up with us for a whole night and tell us in fine detail what they have lived.
As Gingerbread proceeds, its fairy-tale texture cools, and the book hardens into the kind of story its elaborate misdirection is meant to cloak: a tale of economic migration ... In a world in which we feel based on what we see, novels that address migration need to scramble preconceived emotions to produce something more complicated than drive-by empathy. Gingerbread works hard to do this, sometimes too hard: It has four asides and winks to the reader when one would do, and it’s stuffed with literate references, which clog the enchantment machine on which a tale — any tale — ought to rely. It takes 70 pages to take flight. That’s too long ... Oyeyemi can’t help, though, but inscribe intimacy into a tale in ways that defy the difficulty she creates. Gingerbread is a novel that recognizes the way relationships can grow out hardship and being stuck in places one wishes to leave. She also understands that to generations in new lands the old ones are so far away as to be theoretical. Page by page, Oyeyemi brings such territory nearer for Perdita, and for us. Uncomfortably close. And then, like all fairy tales, she promises it was just a dream — leaving behind the mist, an aftertaste, a gnat in the throat.
Oyeyemi’s latest novel, Gingerbread, proves that her writing still remains an unpredictable delight, whisking readers through a fantastical tale with contemporary relevance ... the unifying element among the rapid changes of setting, characters and narrative direction is gingerbread and its power to transform Harriet’s life ... Gingerbread’s more fantastical elements don’t quite obscure Harriet’s grim history, but rather package it in a way that avoids emotional highs and lows. Instead of delivering a harrowing tale of struggle and danger, Harriet’s saga becomes a bizarre story laced with haunting moments that mirror contemporary concerns. Where Oyeyemi’s previous novels that riff on fairy tales can be linked to a genre archetype, Gingerbread reads more like multiple fairy tales wrapped up in one. Oyeyemi avoids clean endings and lessons, opting to launch her central characters in a new direction instead. Even the final pages hint at yet another beginning as strange as those that came before. It doesn’t quite make sense unless you’re willing to meet the book where it is—in a surreal, chaotic world where the real and the imagined overlap.
The true appeal of Gingerbread is in such eye-searing descriptions — of pastry turned blazing hot with vengeance and murder, so hot that it melts the spoon used to mix it and would, one has to imagine, ecstatically incinerate the tongue of the person who ate it. To appreciate it is to read it more for those descriptions, for Oyeyemi’s shivery imagery and turns of phrase, than to find out what happens next. What happens next is beside the point ... Gingerbread embraces that signature Oyeyemi weirdness and blasé disregard for plot — but it also seems to extend that disregard further than Oyeyemi has before ... It is as if the screen of Oyeyemi’s language has become so elaborate that it is difficult to reach past it and connect to the living hearts of her characters. And as a result, this book can sometimes feel a little dry, like gingerbread that’s been just slightly overbaked. But if a book is going to propel itself solely on language and atmosphere, then it should aspire to be as good at even one of those elements as Gingerbread is at both. No matter what happens in the plot, every sentence is perfectly balanced and evocative and rich with meaning.
It’s an intriguing premise, stitched together with fine and surprising imagery, and yet the novel as a whole never quite hangs together. Oyeyemi has a singular boldness of style, which means that her mash-up of Shakespeare and fairytale with references to 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and The 'Jerry Springer Show' is never less than energetic; she brings in Brexit, too, with passing references to Druhástrana’s past glories and present isolationism. But style and story fail to meet ... The push of the vivid prose isn’t enough to carry the book ... There is no boundary, in Oyeyemi’s work, between the magical and the real: and no such boundary exists in the human imagination. When blending the two there is always the risk of whimsy, and Gingerbread falls on the whimsical side of the scale. But Oyeyemi is a writer of wit and courage, qualities that ensure she will continue to build her own dreams, unfettered by the constraints of genre, unbounded by the plain old mortal world.
... splendid, witty ... Oyeyemi’s point can sometimes seem as elusive as that house, but the charm evident on every page of this novel is enough to lure any reader through its twistier passages, and gradually the novel’s ideas emerge from the thicket of droll jokes, fantastical occurrences, and the occasional reference to Lady Gaga.
Gingerbread mirrors the ever-shifting nature of Druhástrana in many ways, with its circular and occasionally conflicting narratives leaving the reader frantically performing mental gymnastics in order to keep up ... This tendency toward the surreal is heightened whenever the characters squint too hard at what it means to be Druhástranian in the outside world.
Oyeyemi has always been fascinated with folklore, and the novel subtly works elements of the fairy tale into modern British life ... Oyeyemi’s puzzle-box structure allows her to consistently exert pressure on Harriet’s narrative and probe at its reliability. Oyeyemi dismisses the idea of a single indisputable account of events ... For the reader, the characters also seem cryptic because of Oyeyemi’s disorienting manner of characterization. She starts at a point of caricature and then humanizes her characters by exposing the limitations of that caricature ... Oyeyemi’s initial portrayal of character is often a distortion of the truth, a front that is later shown to be untrustworthy ... Like the outer wall of the Kercheval house whose deep gaps and crenellations conceal the family’s wealth, appearances are often well-orchestrated disguises ... And like most novels of manners, Gingerbread is concerned with the ways in which confining physical spaces can either tighten or disintegrate relations between their residents ... This intricate, wildly imaginative novel ranges from the absurdly comic to the miserably tragic.
... a book that whirs through mythic lands and spikes its many plot twists with the enchanting allure — and nightmarish tinge — of a fairy tale, to be absorbed in a pleasant, sleepy daze before haunting its reader’s dreams ... no less reliable is Oyeyemi’s tenderness, finely calibrated through her focus on the bond between mothers and daughters, which carries on through generations ... What a strange, ponderous book this is... a beautifully, wildly inventive beast. Nobody else writes like this: puncturing the timelessly poetic with harshly contemporary asides, animating plants and dolls with a cool nonchalance. And how is it that this dark, nutty novel exudes cozy warmth above all else?
In her latest novel, Gingerbread, [Oyeyemi] continues to combine ingredients in the most startling ways. And she’s certainly hit her stride in the post-truth era ... As painfully real as [the plot] feels, and though its structure takes some time to sink into, the novel keeps up its weirdly funny momentum ... Reality’s dull cruelties are spiked with surprise and delight: the trademark Oyeyemi dish.
You are about to love a story that you may or may not understand. It straddles the familiar and the world of make-believe so remarkably well that you may be left believing in that which doesn’t quite exist ... Thoroughly strange yet absolutely mesmerizing, the sixth novel from award-winning Oyeyemi is the perfect escape.
Make no mistake: Helen Oyeyemi’s sixth novel is literary fiction, with a profound central metaphor and wandering, unfixed storylines. Its language is heady and attention-getting ... But it’s also a whimsical, unlikely novel of fictional countries, talking dolls, and ghostly realms. The genius of Oyeyemi’s writing lies in the collision of fantastical whimsy with acidic malice; this is not a fairy tale where the reader feels safe entering the forest, because it’s not at all certain that the cute children will ever come out again. That tension, and Oyeyemi’s extraordinary imagination, lift Gingerbread well above the average literary fantasy and make it something lasting, something rich and lovely and tangy and dark ... Even for a fairy tale, Gingerbread tells a highly improbable story, and it’s packaged in a lopsided and unpredictable narrative. That’s what makes it such a terrific read. It’s a book flawlessly tuned to the most obscure radio station on the dial, and, even though it’s unlike most other fiction – fantasy, literary, or crossover – its delights are bottomless.
In this thrilling and unsettling novel, Oyeyemi offers an elegant, sometimes humorous, and always acute marriage of fairy tale and contemporary politics of race, nation, and belonging. Like Oyeyemi’s earlier fiction, Gingerbread is both beautiful and useful, because elements of fairy tales—the unspecified temporal and geographic dislocation of 'once upon a time'—gift to the reader the distance necessary to perceive the fantastic and absurd functions of race and nation ... Gingerbread calls attention to the functions of race and racism by delaying or withholding declarations of characters’ racial identities. In this Morrisonian vein, Oyeyemi treats Blackness as a racial identity that need not be marked, because here it has the primacy of the norm (a position reserved for whiteness in most writing in English). Oyeyemi reveals Blackness by delay, comparison, and negation ... Oyeyemi proffers a fairy tale as an irresistible invitation for the reader to, like Perdita, taste the gingerbread in all its complexity and make a fantastic journey with stakes for living in a world where race and racism remain defining features of our political and social reality.
...a clever subversion of fairy tale tropes ... Both a scathing indictment of capitalism and a tribute to the maddeningly inescapable endurance of family bonds, this enchanting tale will resonate with literary fiction lovers.
Oyeyemi takes the familiar contours of a children's tale and twists it into something completely new, unsettling, and uncanny ... Readers familiar with Oyeyemi's work will not be surprised to learn that her latest plot sets off in one direction and immediately takes a hairpin curve in another (and another, and still another). The effect is heady, surreal, and disarming—you have to be willing to surrender to Oyeyemi's vision and the delicious twists and turns of her prose. Oyeyemi fans will likely be charmed.
...idiosyncratically brilliant ... Oyeyemi excels at making the truly astounding believable and turning even the most familiar tales into something strange and new. This fantastic and fantastical romp is a wonderful addition to her formidable canon.