Review: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

26th November 2020
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).

Oyeyemi’s creative vision and storytelling are effervescent, wise, and insightful, and her tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.

Wow, this was a wild ride. I feel like I only understood about 10% of what I read. Still, I enjoyed reading this collection a lot – at least in the beginning. The last couple of stories unfortunately didn’t connect with me quite as well as some of the previous.

The writing is very beautiful, incredibly intricate and complex and there’s more happening between the lines than what’s on the page. I think I would have had to read each story several times with my mind on high alert and a book club at hand to thoroughly discuss to come even close to fully grasping what these stories were all about.

I loved that these stories are also somehow intertwined and was always glad to see a familiar face again, even though the timelines might have been jumbled and the circumstances and contexts were different and one was left wondering what happened in-between. Also, lots of racial and sexual diversity!

There’s one thing many of the stories have in common that I didn’t quite like: plot lines that felt unnecessary, out of sorts, like dead weight. But maybe I just didn’t understand why they were there.
  • books and roses ★★★☆☆

    So many stories within stories! There’s Montse growing up, there’s Lucy’s tale of her lover, and the letter of Montse’s mother. I didn’t figure out how they were all connected but it was a very intriguing story with a dash of mystery, a great library, and a secret garden. I especially loved the story of the mysterious death and the story of Isidoro. It also features f/f romance and black characters.

  • ‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea ★★★★★

    Damn, I loved this one, even though it feels quite fragmented. On the one hand, there’s this weird house of locks with doors that won’t stay shut, a weird fish, and spirits. On the other, there’s a powerful story that so fittingly reflects the #metoo movement: a beloved pop star abusing a prostitute and when she comes forward, the fans turn on her, going full on victim blaming. It was uncanny to read. However, the consequences were pretty epic. I also loved the m/m family dynamic and the two daughters.

  • is your blood as red as this? ★★★☆☆

    Here, we meet Tyche from the previous story again, just much younger and in a totally different situation. However, I’m not quite sure who the narrators were. We have an Indian protagonist and I really loved the idea of a translation destroying the text. The main character seems to be bi, since she has an f/f unrequited crush, but is later on in an f/m relationship. And it’s all about puppets. Living puppets and real puppets and weird puppeteers. There are undertones of abuse, and many stories within stories: Gepetta, Rowan and Myrna, and of course the protagonist’s story in the present.

  • drownings ★★★☆☆

    For me, this was the most straight forward story, but it was somehow lacking. It’s the story of a tyrant drowning his people, it’s the story of Arkady and his friends, who just try to get by, it’s the story of keys and their power to unlock things, and of women taking power into their own hands.

  • presence ★★★★☆

    This one was weird and scary and felt like it could be a Doctor Who episode (for adults). The protas are black and there’s also a non-cameo of Radha and Myrna from two stories ago. It’s a couple who’s in a sort of will they won’t hey split up situation testing a drug that’s supposed to bring back people, but it has severe side effects. What felt out of place were the episodes of Jill’s work at a prison.

  • a brief history of the homely wench society ★★★★★

    Oh, this one was great! It features Dayang from ‘sorry’ and Myrna is also mentioned again. It’s at its core a boys vs. girls situation with two clubs at uni constantly at odds with each other. There are great female friendships, an ESC stint (always here for these mentions), and the girls stirring up trouble with the boys with one of the funniest ideas: swapping out their old white men books with feminist literature. There’s also a bit of ‘forbidden’ romance. For me, that was a heck yes, girls! kind of story.

  • dornička and the st martin’s day goose ★★☆☆☆

    I usually love fairytale retellings and this is one of Little Red Riding Hood but with a sacrificial goose. However, it is a very weird one that’s also a bit yucky. Maybe that’s why I didn’t connect with it.

  • freddy barrandov checks … in? ★★★☆☆

    There are many familiar faces turning up here: Aisha, Ched, and Tyche. I loved the idea of Hotel Glissando where you check in and never leave and all your wishes are fulfilled (and you can read quite a bit into it). However, the connections between the characters were all over the place: Freddy is in a relationship with Aisha and gets hired by his godfather – who’s also Ched’s father – to break up Ched and Tyche. And then there’s a whole portion on Aisha’s Russian spy puppet film … colour me confused.

  • If a book is locked there’s probably a good reason for that, don’t you think ★★★☆☆

    I liked the setup: the company is an employee surveyor based solely on numbers and not on people, then there’s the new co-worker Eva, who’s quiet and withdrawn. The protagonist connects with her on that level. When a woman with her son comes in to accuse Eva of seeing her husband, everyone except the protagonist turns against her. There’s also a diary in the mix that’s not what one would expect.

Bibliographic Information
This Edition
German Edition
2016 by Picador
Hardcover, 266 pages
ISBN-13: 9781447299363
Goodreads / Publisher
2018 by CultureBooks
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9783959881036
Goodreads / Publisher
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