The Icarus Girl
London, Bloomsbury, 2005, 322p
This novel is much darker than I had anticipated. It is a modern psychological thriller, dealing with the concept of identity through an eight year old girl. It is clever and confusing, making the reader doubt at every turn; and I adored it.
The Icarus Girl is about Jessamy Harrison, half-British, half-Nigerian, who is quiet and thoughtful; she reads a lot and has a wild imagination. Her parents take her to Nigeria, to meet her family there, where she befriends someone who seems to understand her - TillyTilly. But as their friendship solidifies, TillyTilly reveals a darker side to herself, as strange incidents occur and secrets are revealed.
For much of the novel, it is unclear who TillyTilly really is - you suspect she is a figment of Jess' imagination, but cannot be sure, as the novel is predominantly narrated from her point of view, and you cannot distance yourself from Jess' reality. As the darkness within TillyTilly is revealed, Jess starts to push away from her, but finds she cannot - they are bound together by secrets and emotions.
Oyeyemi explores the complexity of growing up mixed race. Jess cannot work out where she belongs or who she is, resulting in the creation of her imaginary friend. The story develops from the focus about race into a doppelganger novel, as we learn that Jess had a twin who died in birth. As such, the novel became too complex - I found myself confused and full of questions - wishing Oyeyemi has focused on just one of these aspects.
And yet, I read this book fervently. It was fairly predictable in terms of the psychological thriller genre, but very well written, with the language of Gothic horror releasing the ghostly TillyTilly into my nightmares. Oyeyemi was only 17 when she wrote The Icarus Girl, and I cannot wait to see what else she will produce.
Completely unconnected to this whole review is a lovely quote that I just wanted to include here:
"Two hungry people should never make friends. If they do, they eat each other up. It is the same with one person who is hungry and another who is full: they cannot be real, real friends because the hungry one will eat the full one. [...] Only two people who are full up can be friends. They don't want anything from each other except friendship."