This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.
I remember being pitched Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl back in 2005 when I was the reviews editor for Waterstone’s Books Quarterly. There was a story attached to this novel, the kind publicists’ dreams are made of. It was written in secret in a whirlwind seven months while Oyeyemi was a schoolgirl, studying for her A levels. She signed a two-book contract on the day she got her results and is now a celebrated author. Unsurprisingly there was a good deal of hype around Oyeyemi’s debut which can so often result in disappointment but not with this one.
Jessamy Harrison is a frightened, lonely little girl afflicted with panic attacks. After a particularly disturbing episode, her parents take her to meet her mother’s family in Nigeria. Here Jess finds herself drawn to the old servants’ quarters where she meets the mysterious Titiola, or TillyTilly as Jess decides to call her. Emboldened by TillyTilly, Jess becomes more confident. When the family returns home Jess is bereft but TillyTilly has followed her. All sorts of strange and unexplained events occur, gradually becoming more sinister as TillyTilly ‘gets’ all those who threaten or hurt Jess. But TillyTilly wants something in return and Jess finds herself desperately trying to escape the strange little girl who invades her life, her dreams and even herself.
I commissioned Lesley Glaister to review The Icarus Girl, herself no slouch when it comes to scaring her readers silly. She ended her review with this: ‘I was actually trembling when I put it down and had to keep the light on all night. I think it’s the most haunting and disturbing novel I’ve ever read.’
What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?