Fragmenting and becoming double:Supplementary twins and abject bodies in Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl

Ilott, Sarah and Buckley, Chloe Alexandra Germaine (2016) Fragmenting and becoming double:Supplementary twins and abject bodies in Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl. Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 51 (3). pp. 402-415. ISSN 0021-9894

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This article uses readings of the abject body and writing as supplement in Helen Oyeyemi’s novel, The Icarus Girl (2005) to argue against a critical trend that reads the postcolonial Bildungsroman as promising a positively transformed postcolonial identity. Through our reading of Oyeyemi’s novel, we suggest that locating the debates and tropes conventionally mobilized within postcolonial gothic in the former colonial centre complicates subject formations and constructions of alterity. The Icarus Girl weaves together a Western literary tradition of gothic with the postcolonial Bildungsroman and we suggest that the interaction of these forms produces a reading focused on the abject, both in terms of physical abjection mapped onto bodies and places, and in the way writing functions as abject supplement. When bodies, borders, and writing disintegrate, the reading of the novel becomes a difficult process, one not easily co-opted into a critical discourse that tends to value a psycho-symbolic reading of the postcolonial gothic Bildungsroman and to promise a positively transformed postcolonial identity. Accordingly, we argue that The Icarus Girl is unable to find comforting resolutions, disrupt oppositional structures, and create a utopian hybrid space or to bring about a unified sense of self, meaning that it resists a redemptive or cathartic ending. We draw upon Kristeva’s theories of the abject and Derrida’s notion of the supplement in order to establish how Oyeyemi’s novel resists the construction of a stable identity through its emphasis upon expulsion and disintegration. Unlike the majority of criticism on postcolonial gothic, which focuses on texts emanating from formerly colonized countries, this article considers what happens to postcolonial gothic when it is written within and about the former colonial centre. In The Icarus Girl the repercussions of the colonial period are experienced in the present day through experiences of racism, dislocation, and alienation within Britain.

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Journal Article
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Journal of Commonwealth Literature
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25 Nov 2016 16:34
Last Modified:
20 Sep 2023 00:58