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Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi {book review}

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

2019 was the first year I decided to join up to Goodreads and take part in a challenge to read more books. I found it fun to share my book reviews and recommendations and discovered lots of great books to read. Last year I aimed to read 12 books but ended up reading 50, this year I hope to do even better. My first book of 2020 was the delightful Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi.

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Perdita Lee may appear your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor flat with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval – a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Years later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story, as well as a reunion or two. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value.

I hadn’t read any other books by novelist Helen Oyeyemi but the mere title made me want to read this book, long before I even read the blurb. I love all things gingerbread so this sounded like the perfect book for me. Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories – equal parts wholesome and uncanny; from the tantalizing witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can – Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, Gingerbread is a true feast for the reader.

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