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Smith: What’s in a name? Why is Mr. Fox called Mr. Fox?
Oyeyemi: Mr. Fox is called Mr. Fox because I think of him as both wild and urbane; also he’s a namesake of the English Bluebeard and an even older mythological lady killer, Reynardine (from the French for fox, Reynard). This book is full of foxes and foxgloves and fox trotting and all things fox. As to why the book itself is called Mr. Fox, that’s partly because calling it Mary Foxe seemed like bad luck for Mary--books and films that have a woman’s name as their title seem to end up with the woman dead or insane or bereft in some way, and I like Mary too much for that. But also one of my favorite writers, Barbara Comyns, wrote a book about a wily man called Mr. Fox in 1987, and even though I didn’t know about it or read it until I’d finished writing about my own Mr. Fox, I can’t help but think that’s got something to do with this business somehow.
Smith: Where does this story come from and did it go where you thought it would go? What was the process of writing this one like?
Oyeyemi: This story comes from having read Rebecca, which made me want to have a go at writing a Bluebeard story. Then I started reading (and re-reading) Bluebeard variants, from Jane Eyre to Alice Hoffmann’s Blue Diary to the Joseph Jacobs fairy tale “Mr. Fox,” which features a kind of linguistic battle between Mr. F. and the heroine, Lady Mary, who witnesses a murder he commits and has the guts to tell him all about himself to his face. So then I had two characters, and I was off.
Smith: What does it mean to lose the plot? Is story different from plot? If so, how, and do they need each other? And why or why not?
Oyeyemi: I reckon losing the plot means finding the story. The plot gets you from A to B and home again, but the story is the surrounding wilderness that you wander into, and then the bears come, and it’s impossible to tell which ones would like to invite you to a picnic and which ones would like to make a picnic of you, because they look exactly the same until you’re right up close. So I think you do need plot if you’d rather not risk approaching a story’s bears, either as a reader or a writer--it depends on what sort of story it is. Some stories don’t have very interesting bears. (Maybe you don’t agree? Maybe you think all bears of this kind are interesting, or at least, more interesting than the plot path?)
Smith: If you, like me, think that books produce books, which books are germinal to this one? And if you don’t think that, then where do books come from?
Oyeyemi: Yes, books beget books; I’d say they’re the leading cause of today’s plague of books, and may we never be cured. Rebecca caused this one, and Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde, Anne Sexton’s Transformations, Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop, Gombrowicz’s Bacacay, Daniil Kharms’s Incidences, Susanna Moore’s In the Cut, and Barbara Comyns’s The Vet’s Daughter, too.
Smith: What was in your pockets when you began this book, and what’s in them now that you’ve finished it? i.e., what’s next?
Oyeyemi: When I started writing Mr. Fox, it was summer, and I was interested in cupcakes and foxes and Mills and Boon books written in the 1930s. Now I’m interested in fudge and wolves and self-appointed executioners.
Thank you for asking me these questions; they’re a delight.
(Photo of Helen Oyeyemi © Saneesh Sukumaran)
(Photo of Ali Smith ©Sarah Wood)
Sweet, so sweet. Just sweet and liquid and charming. And tender. As much tenderness as you can imagine in the drop of dew. Or in the eye of a fox. In the lock of a girl's hair. Read morePublished 28 days ago by Ksenia Anske
I picked up this book on a whim. It was on sale and I happen to really like foxes. So it was great to find out, in the end, that my purchase was worthwhile for this is a very good... Read morePublished 2 months ago by tsoden
Here is a book that I will reread. It is so unusual that I found myself turning back over and over. Characters modeled on fairy tales (British, so some research is required to get... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Donfw99
Maybe if I could get through it, if I could read it on a beach someplace, I might get a sense of who the heck these people are and why the author felt that their... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Dr. C. Holland O'Darling
I really hated this book and was relieved when I attended my book club meeting to learn the other members had the same reaction, even the person who recommended it.Published 3 months ago by Sally
I did not like it. It was the second book that I have read by this author and I find that her usage of flashbacks, jumping from one character's story to another without warning... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Sylvia Holman
As a lover of fairytales and legends, I found this book to be both fascinating and frustrating. I know I shall have to reread it at least two more times before I understand all the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Kindle Customer
Written in her mid-twenties, Helen Oyeyemi's "Mr Fox" is not so much a fully-fledged novel as a delicious entertainment. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Just when I begin to think there’s little new under the sun, along comes Helen Oyeyemi and shatters all my perceptions about how a story can be narrated. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jill I. Shtulman