A collection is, by my lights, a chance to build a universe, an overarching ecosystem. But it’s common enough to encounter a hodgepodge instead, where flashes of brilliance are undercut by clunkers. While What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is linked loosely by keys (and also by character — a figure in the wings of one story might take center stage in another, a structure that recalls Yoko Ogawa’s devastating 'Revenge'), the collection is even more urgently united by the author’s playful, inventive sensibility. Oyeyemi has created a universe that dazzles and wounds.
[H]er broken little stories come so devastatingly alive, even while remaining so achingly incomplete. Life offers no resolution, and keys and locks spend most of their time not finding each other. Dreams never come true. But as 'if a book is locked…' suggests, there’s probably a good reason for that, don’t you think?
Oyeyemi’s talent is evident on every page — a talent so obvious that it invites critics to throw both hands up and say 'Flawless!' — but it can also seem as if every page introduces three new characters, and a lot of them are disposable. Of course, that very disposable quality is certainly part of the point, and the pleasure, of Oyeyemi’s fiction...Oyeyemi is a prodigious and idiosyncratic talent finding her form in public, and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is something more interesting than a flawless or coherent book.
Every story in the 30-year-old former wunderkind's latest literary offering is chiseled out of the same alphabet the rest of us are stuck with, but with a razor-sharp pen and a few twists and folds of reality, Oyeyemi crafts strange tales that at times border on sinister as they scissor in and out of contemporary reality...When plots get fussy, Oyeyemi's style comes to the rescue, a faucet of glimmering words and shadows that wash the mind clean of any lingering confusion.
...is her first collection of short stories, and it is astonishingly beautiful. Every line shimmers; every image is as precise and well-placed as though it were cut from glass. This book is so exquisite, so perfectly made...collection are all loosely connected, with characters weaving in and out of the narrative as it suits them ...what really unites the book is the repeated image of a key in a lock, and the question of whether it is better to unlock a mystery or to leave it unresolved ...What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a singularly beautiful collection of stories, filled with ideas and images that will linger in your mind for a long time to come.
Sometimes, I have to say, the sinuous style of Oyeyemi's storytelling totally bewildered me; but when the tales are alive enough — and many of them are — I was willing to surrender my expectations of closure, of that 'click' of the door, that more traditional short stories usually end on. What is always a sure thing with Oyeyemi is her mastery of imagery and language — both of which are capable of being shocks to the system.
In less gifted hands, these stories would fly apart, casualties of their own centrifugal energy. Oyeyemi remains in perfect control, though, her voice bracingly unique, with What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours a testament to her growing reputation as a contemporary master.
This memorable collection certainly beckons the reader — both with its beautiful cover and robust prose — to return to its pages, with each story offering up unexpected surprises and secrets with each read.
Ms. Oyeyemi writes about ghosts and tyrants in faraway lands with a straight-faced confidence. And she imbues her more realistic stories with an off-kilter tone that makes them feel slightly, sometimes indescribably magical. This book is united, in a way that sometimes feels strained, by literal and metaphorical keys, which appear in some form or other in every story.
By the end of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, we know that Oyeyemi’s allegiance to books and writing is absolute, and her love of words runs deep. For faithful readers, being granted access to these inventive and ambitious stories is a bit like receiving a gift, one full of strange and private wonders.
When fabulists move to shorter forms there is always a danger that the stream of shifting realities and unrealities may be choked off by limited space. Thankfully, in the case of Oyeyemi’s new collection of nine short fictions, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, this is not a problem; like Italo Calvino, she relies on story more than plot; and like Bruno Schulz, she allows for recurring images and totems that link the stories in often surprising ways. She otherwise resembles these writers not at all.
Whether you enjoy the collection will depend on how much emotional engagement you look for, how much depth of insight — and how enthralled you are by Oyeyemi’s style, here distilled to its purest essence. Riffs do not lend themselves to emotional engagement or insight, but in Oyeyemi’s hands they leave indelible, shifting images behind your eyelids like the workings of a kaleidoscope.
Built around the idea of keys, locks and magic doors, the stories cover a wide territory — from mythology and fairy tales to smartphones and YouTube stars...In each, Oyeyemi, a Nigerian-born British writer named one of Granta’s best young British novelists in 2013, again shows her ability to mesmerize and enchant.
Oyeyemi has her flashes of lyricism, but they’re so fleeting that they leave you refreshed and yearning rather than drenched in verbiage; her stories are never mere set pieces for the display of exquisite prose ... her stories will remind some readers of those of Kelly Link and Angela Carter. But her buoyant embrace of the multicultural milieu her characters inhabit also recalls the joyousness of early Zadie Smith, especially White Teeth. Hers is a vision where identity matters, but it doesn’t trump everything. What has the power to transcend it is love and literature.
...a beautiful, brilliant, evocative collection of (somewhat) linked short stories...We need more books like Oyeyemi’s; to challenge us, to make us think, and to remind us that it is all right, sometimes, not to know all the answers to the riddles that plague us.
In every story, surprising and beautiful phrases fall carelessly from the author’s pen. Which is a good reminder for aspiring writers: Trust that your imagination is infinite. Creativity is not like currency; spending it doesn’t leave you with less. Thinking creatively inspires more creativity. Oyeyemi shows us what can be accomplished with absolute trust in the expansiveness of one’s imagination. If you’re feeling uncertain, just dip into What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours for the proof.