Helen Oyeyemi

British novelist and playwright

Helen Oyeyemi (December 10, 1984) is a British novelist and writer of short stories.

Helen Oyeyemi in 2021


  • "I also love books of people learning to do this like going to ballet school, or how to ride horses. There's just something about the process and setback's it's very interesting."
    • [1] An interview with Kobo Conversation.
  • "The only way to try and interrogate or possibly persuade stories to reveal something about themselves is to make all these provocations and assaults on them, and try and unpack them and unpick their seams and see if they react."
    • [2] During an interview

From her books

  • "Please tell me a story about a girl who gets away." I would, even if I had to adapt one, even if I had to make one up just for her. "Gets away from what, though?" "From her fairy godmother. From the happy ending that isn't really happy at all. Please have her get out and run off of the page altogether, to somewhere secret where words like 'happy' and 'good' will never find her." "You don't want her to be happy and good?" "I'm not sure what's really meant by happy and good. I would like her to be free. Now. Please begin." White for Witching (2010) p 165
  • "Once you let people know anything about what you think, that's it, you're dead. Then they'll be jumping about in your mind, taking things out, holding them up to the light and killing them, yes, killing them, because thoughts are supposed to stay and grow in quiet, dark places, like butterflies in cocoons”. The Icarus girl (2005) p 82
  • "Her heart was heavy because it was open, and so things filled it, and so things rushed out of it, but still the heart kept beating, tough and frighteningly powerful and meaning to shrug off the rest of her and continue on its own”. Mr Fox (2011) p 171
  • "You don’t return people’s smiles—it’s perfectly clear to you that people can smile and smile and still be villains." Boy, Snow, Bird (2014) p 8
  • The water was so cold on her skin that it felt dry.”[3]
  • “She thought I hadn't seen her, but she's no good at hiding her intentions. She can't help tiptoeing around with a finger to her lips at key moments.”[4]
  • “It was like dancing with a mask that was attached to a stick—she dared not lower it, no matter how tiring it was to hold the mask up. She was the ugly girl at the ball.”[5]
  • What is the meaning of it? Three creaks, three weeks? If she comes back for her shoes in three days, then I only need to empty them another three times. If it really is three weeks that were meant, what then. If three months, what then. Three years. That's why I had to write it down now. By then I may no longer believe I heard anything in Miri's room.”[6]
  • “Love. I'm not capable of it, can't even approach it from the side, let alone head-on. Nor am I alone in this—everyone is like this, the liars. Singing songs and painting pictures and telling each other stories about love and its mysteries and marvelous properties, myths to keep morale up—maybe one day it'll materialize. But I can say it ten times a day, a hundred times, 'I love you,' to anyone and anything, to a woman, to a pair of pruning shears. I've said it without meaning it at all, taken love's name in vain and gone dismally unpunished. Love will never be real, or if it is, it has no power. No power. There's only covetousness, and if what we covet can't be won with gentle words—and often it can't—then there is force.”[7]
  • “The whole thing was so intense, so full of hurt that when I look back at it I squint. I want it forgotten.”[8]
  • “I was so jealous it burned, and I knew I had to let it alone or I'd break something inside me.”[9]
  • “I love sleeping. Waking is more and more hateful the older I get. I say this as if I've lived too long. I'm twenty-two.”[10]
  • “As always, the soucouyant seemed more lonely than bad. Maybe that was her trick, her ability to make it so you couldn't decide if she was a monster.”[11]
  • “She is a double danger—there is the danger of meeting her, and the danger of becoming her. Does the nightmare of her belong to everyone, or just to me?”[12]
  • “Maybe she was not really like that. It's just that I would prefer you to think that what happened to her was justified.”[13]
  • “Easy to see the solution when you're not in the story, isn't it.”[14]
  • “She won't forget or recover, she is inconsolable.”[15]
  • “A song called 'Earth Angel' played in her head all morning—also three trumpets and a piano.”[16]
  • “Her heart's breaking. It breaks three times a week on account of people treating her so badly, and she knows that all you can do is laugh it off.”[17]
  • “And other times—too often, maybe—I don't dare have an opinion in case it upsets anyone.”[18]
  • 'But what will I do for a whole year?'[19]
  • “She had had such a strong feeling that she needed to talk to someone who would tell her some secret that would make everything alright. She had been unable to think who it was.”[20]
  • “His heavy eyebrows lowered and he made some small, involuntary gesture with his hand that was recognisably superstitious, as if the words 'God forbid' had flowed into his body.”[21]
  • “I examined the portraits nearest to me but couldn't get past the sensation that here was the same man over and over, crouched in old boxes, readying himself to spit on my plate.”[22]
  • “One or the other of us said 'I can't,' and if it was me I don't know why because I wanted to. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrongly to help me get over the rejection.”[23]
  • “She smiled with a scary energy, as if she had been told to at gunpoint.”[24]
  • “I'm not saying I'm amazing or anything, but I'm decent-looking. Why shouldn't a decent-looking girl expect to be kissed?”[25]
  • “I was always weak in the head—that must be it. I can't seem to care anymore about what I'm supposed to do.”[26]
  • “Our exchanges always seem to turn into whatever he wants them to.”[27]
  • “Have you ever heard a note in someone's voice that said 'This is the end?' I heard it in the next words he said to me, and I stopped listening.”[28]
  • “Have you forgotten about our fox?

The one who now had an eye for beauty, and an inclination to set it apart from other things . . .”[29]

  • “I almost forgot to mention another fox I know of—a very wicked fox indeed. But you are tired of hearing about foxes now, so I won't go on.”[30]
  • “There was . . . a mirror that crawled across the wall in a wooden frame. When I go into Miri's room all I can see, all I can think of is that enormous mirror, like a lake on the wall.”[31]
  • “What do you think of Poe?"[32]
  • "He's awful. He was obviously . . . what's the term . . . 'disappointed in love' at some point. He probably never smiled again. The pages are just bursting with his longing for women to suffer. If he ever met me he'd probably punch me on the nose."[33]
  • "I think Poe's quite good, actually. The whole casual horror thing. Like someone standing next to you and screaming their head off and you asking them what the fuck and them stopping for a moment to say 'Oh you know, I'm just afraid of Death' and then they keep on with the screaming.”[34]
  • “Solitary people, these book lovers. I think it's swell that there are people you don't have to worry about when you don't see them for a long time, you don't have to wonder what they do, how they're getting along with themselves. You just know that they're all right, and probably doing something they like.”[35]
  • “Imagine having a mother who worries that you read too much. The question is, what is it that's supposed to happen to people who read too much? How can you tell when someone's crossed the line.”[36]
  • “I know of witches who whistle at different pitches, calling things that don't have names.”[37]
  • “I’m never sad when a friend goes far away, because whichever city or country that friend goes to, they turn the place friendly. They turn a suspicious-looking name on the map into a place where a welcome can be found. Maybe the friend will talk about you sometimes, to other friends that live around him, and then that’s almost as good as being there yourself. You’re in several places at once! In fact, my daughter, I would even go so far as to say that the further away your friends, and the more spread out they are the better your chances of going safely through the world…”[38]
  • “The first coffee of the morning is never, ever, ready quickly enough. You die before it’s ready and then your ghost pours the resurrection potion out of the moka pot.”[39]
  • “It was the usual struggle between one who loves by accepting burdens and one who loves by refusing to be one.”[40]
  • “I wish there was someone I could have written to after that, someone I could have written to explain how awful it was to have someone touch you, then look at you properly and change his mind.”[41]
  • “… there’s a difference between having no one because you’ve chosen it and having no one because everyone has been taken away.”[42]
  • “What you're doing is building a horrible kind of logic. People read what you write and they say, 'Yes, he is talking about things that really happen,' and they keep reading, and it makes sense to them. You're explaining things that can't be defended, and the explanations themselves are mad, just bizarre — but you offer them with such confidence. It was because she kept the chain on the door; it was because he needed to let off steam after a hard day's scraping and bowing at work; it was because she was irritating and stupid; it was because she lied to him, made a fool of him; it was because she had to die, she just had to, it makes dramatic sense; it was because 'nothing is more poetic than the death of a beautiful woman'; it was because of this, it was because of that. It's obscene to make such things reasonable.”[43]
  • “That's the ideal meeting...once upon a time, only once, unexpectedly, then never again.”[44]
  • “It occurred to me that I was unhappy. And it didn’t feel so very terrible. No urgency, nothing. I could slip out of my life on a slow wave like this—it didn’t matter. I don’t have to be happy. All I have to do is hold on to something and wait.”[45]
  • “A library at night is full of sounds: the unread books can't stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”[46]
  • “But then, maybe “I don’t believe in you” is the cruelest way to kill a monster.”[47]
  • “For reasons of my own I take note of the way people act when they’re around mirrors.”[48]
  • “With boys there was a fundamental assumption that they had a right to be there—not always, but more often than not. With girls, Why her? came up so quickly.”[49]
  • “I've read that madness is present when everything you see and hear takes on an equal significance. A dead bird makes you cry, and so does a doorknob.”[50]
  • “If you should find yourself in a place that is indifferent to you and there is someone there that your spirit stretches to, then that person is kin.”[51]
  • “And without further argument he unsheathed the sword and cleaved Miss Foxe's head from her neck. He knew what was supposed to happen. He knew that this awkward, whispering creature before him should now transform into a princess - dazzlingly beautiful, free, and made wise by her hardship.

That is not what happened.”[52]

  • “I was born, and then I was quietly resentful of that fact for a few years...but then I went to a library and it was okay.”[53]
  • “... it's not whiteness itself that sets Them against Us, but the worship of whiteness. Same goes if you swap whiteness out for other things-- fancy possessions for sure, pedigree, maybe youth too... we beat Them (and spare ourselves a lot of tedium and terror) by declining to worship.”[54]
  • “The general advice is always be yourself, be yourself, which only makes sense if you haven't got an attitude problem.”[55]
  • “To you who eat a lot of rice because you are lonely

To you who sleep a lot because you are bored To you who cry a lot because you are sad I write this down. Chew on your feelings that are cornered Like you would chew on rice.

Anyway life is something that you need to digest.

- Chunyang Hee

("sorry" doesn't sweeten her tea)”[56]

  • “And she walked away, and she walked away, and that was that, and that was that.”[57]
  • “In Narnia a girl might ring a bell in a deserted temple and feel the chime in her eyes, pure as the freeze that forces tears. Then when the sound dies out, the White Witch wakes. It was like, I want to touch you, and I can touch you, now what next, a dagger?”[58]
  • “She encouraged herself to see her very small presence in the world as a good thing, a power, something that a hero might possess.”[59]
  • An anti-heroine has her own purity, a singleness of intention.[60]
  • I sometimes consider a story’s anti-heroine to be an embodied protest against the set of ideals the narrative upholds in the form of the perfect heroine.[61]
  • Without further ado I give you my number one [anti-heroine]: Carabosse, the fairy who goes where she is not invited expressly in order to curse a princess whose life was all set up to be a bright and gracious path from birth to death.[62]
  • Sleeping Beauty is not herself, and doesn’t become so until the isolation of her hundred-year sleep, during which she must dream her own dreams. Carabosse’s curse is the most meaningful gift the girl could have been given.[63]
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