Review: The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi

2017: 90
3 of 5 stars
Published in 2005

This is a debut novel written when the author was 19. I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it, though. It’s about an 8 year old girl, Jessamy, whose mother is Nigerian and whose father is English. She’s been brought up in England but doesn’t seem to have friends and doesn’t fit in. During a family visit to Nigeria, she meets a girl called TillyTilly, a girl that nobody else seems to see. A girl who, eventually, Jessamy realizes isn’t real. Yet she has a presence and isn’t always a benevolent one, either.

Sometimes, I thought Jess was dealing with multiple personality, or some other mental illness. Sometimes, I thought it was a spirit, a ghost and other times I wondered if Jess had a brain tumour. The thing is, it’s never that clear. Jess is afraid all the time, not just of TillyTilly but of most things. She has an overactive imagination that fuels the fire. Even when she knows Tilly isn’t real, she knows there’s *something*.

Definition of Icarus. :the son of Daedalus who, to escape imprisonment, flies by means of artificial wings but falls into the sea and drowns when the wax of his wings melts as he flies too near the sun. – Miriam Webster dictionary

I think the story is a bit uneven. If I’m supposed to be picking up clues and metaphors, it’s lost on me. I’m not very good at that kind of thing.  Regarding Tilly and other events in the book, I’d like to have some sort of definitive reveal and motivation or something close to it but I don’t think it really gives you that. The ending is a bit ambiguous, too. But going by the definition above, when applied to the plot and especially the ending, then I can understand what happens at the end. And yet, I found the book engaging and interesting if a little frustrating to read. It kept me guessing and wanting to know what happens next and when the truth will be revealed. I was let down on that last point. It’s quite a complex novel for someone’s debut, written by a teenager who knows the Nigerian folklore that apparently some of this is based on.




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