The Blurb: In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, Luc, mourn her absence with an unspoken intensity. All is not well within the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls and Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly-
Slipping away from them-
And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.
Miri I conjure you
This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love.
The Mention: I came across this 2009 novel by Helen Oyeyemi as it is one of the novels discussed in Gizelle Liza Anatol’s the Things that Fly in the Night and it proved itself to be an erudite and atmospheric piece of modern literature. The atmosphere draws on the Gothic and seems more important than the plot (not that there isn’t a plot, there most certainly is, but it is the atmosphere that to me feels key here).
Main character Miri has pica – a psychological condition where the person has a craving to eat non-food substances – but one of the characters, Ore, is knowledgeable about the soucayant myths. Of Nigerian origin, her foster mother has struggled to find books exploring the culture and myths of her home land and gives her a book on Caribbean myth – though she already owns it – and her favourite section is about the soucayant.
Ore is actually the first voice we hear in the novel – speaking of Miranda going missing and suggesting that it is the only way that Miranda could fight the soucayant. However, her belief in the myth is just that. Whilst the book has a supernatural element, almost Poe-like (ironically as Poe is one author Miri dislikes) as the house has a voice that reminds one of Usher, the soucayant is not involved but is the filter through which Ore understands the events. Ore herself is silent after the novel’s opening until the second part of the book (met by Miri, in the first part, her voiced contributions to the tale do not begin when they first meet). Arguably Miri herself might be the soucayant – certainly Ore is physically affected by their association, dramatically losing weight – but this isn’t explicit.
An interesting inclusion in a very interesting book.