Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
The Lee family gingerbread is legendary – it has been known to cause obsession in a single bite. Margot and her daughter Harriet are quite unusual. They come from the land of Druhástrana, which doesn’t exist according to anyone who doesn’t come from there, and Harriet’s daughter Perdita, born and raised in England, has four talking dolls as her closest companions.
Perdita is desperate to know more about her mother’s past and heritage. For this reason, she attempts to find Harriet’s childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval. Gretel has had an enormous impact on Harriet’s life since the day they met – and she also might not be exactly human. In her effort to track Gretel down, Perdita learns the story of how her mother and grandmother came to live in England, as well as the story of her own birth. This is a story that involves escaping smalltown life, a potentially sinister gingerbread factory, and the practice of a single, annual good deed by one fortunate family.
Gingerbread is the strange and beautiful story of a sprawling family history. It has all the scope and sense of place you might expect from a Zadie Smith novel combined with the surrealism of a Murakami, and is strung together with stunning prose. The quality of Oyeyemi’s writing is the making of this book. It has the lilting, sing-song energy of a fairy tale, yet manages to harness the abject at the same time, often in the same sentence. I believe that Helen Oyeyemi is one of the most underrated contemporary literary authors, and each time I read her work, I’m blown away by the way she seamlessly blends writing about magic, heritage, culture, and deeply complex relationships.