This is more of a book recommendation than a book review, as I’m very taken with this short story collection :).
The stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours are bound together by themes, motifs, and characters that seem to slip through your fingers at the end of a story, only to resurface, teasingly, in the next. Each story ends before you have entirely understood it, and haunts you for at least another three. The most prominent motif are the keys that surface all throughout the book. They unlock majestic libraries, forbidden gardens, and prisons, but are also metaphorical and give us clues about the fates of at least two pairs of lovers. We are led through a world with marshlands where the drowned dead live, a school for puppeteers, and a house where all the clocks have stopped before reaching the final story “if a book is locked there is probably a good reason for that, don’t you think” .
This book, that I picked up for its lovely open spine and suddenly found myself having read the first fifteen pages of, left me spellbound long after I finished reading it. I was torn between immediately reading it again and taking a break to process everything I just read. Oyeyemi’s writing is elegant, exquisite, and playfully ambitious. She cleverly manipulates the information that is given to the reader, and takes you closer to and further away from the action without losing control. Though I, of course, liked some stories better than others, none of them bored me, and the lesser ones mainly left me wondering what I’d missed.
Many of the characters form homosexual relationships, but instead of being part of the plot, as often happens in many lesser works, these are simply presented as relationships, which I really appreciated. The characters are of different ages and time periods, but are all flawed and authentic in such a way that they balance the mysticism in the book very nicely. These elements of the story, together with its striking style, made me feel that Oyeyemi carefully considered and polished each of her stories, making What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours a very impressive book.