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Helen Oyeyemi’s PEACES is a brilliantly assembled fever dream of a novel. What begins as a foggy series of stories takes shape into something truly radiant as both readers and characters alike embark on the trip of a lifetime.

In this enviable feat of storytelling, readers follow Otto, his partner Xavier, and their pet mongoose as they embark on their non-honeymoon honeymoon, gifted to them by Xavier’s aunt. With nondescript train tickets in hand, the two board Lucky Day on a passage through the French countryside en route to a stop unknown.

That the destination remains uncertain is perhaps perfect for PEACES, a novel that feels nearly aimless but takes its readers on an unforgettable journey nonetheless.

"What begins as a foggy series of stories takes shape into something truly radiant as both readers and characters alike embark on the trip of a lifetime."

Aboard the train, things become stranger still for Otto and Xavier. The pair fumble their way through compartments that are symboled rather than numbered and carriages filled with settings more akin to dreamscapes than anything grounded in reality. One hosts a dazzling bazaar, another an art gallery filled with all-white canvases that reveal different things to each viewer. Other carriages host mailrooms and saunas, a library and even a greenhouse.

As Otto and Xavier move through the train, they become familiar with a handful of other passengers. They include would-be heiress Ava, Ava’s partner Allegra (as well as her own pet mongoose), and a strangely familiar woman named Laura. As these characters interact, they realize that they all share a connection with a mysterious figure who goes by many names and whose presence is felt even in its absence.

With the introduction of this figure, the reader is presented with the cruel concept of “unseeing.” A person who has been unseen is effectively rendered invisible to the unseer. Whether this “unseeing” is metaphorical or fantastic, it is clearly a painful experience for characters to be invisible to the one person they ache to be perceived by. From this point on, they begin to piece together a haphazard jigsaw puzzle of desire, perception and identity.

While this story does ultimately offer a destination and a conclusion, there is no resolution. The pieces are all there, but the characters’ peaces are not. And perhaps that is just the point: sometimes there is no closure in the close, and we need to derive our own peace.

Oyeyemi’s talent for worldbuilding is perhaps unmatched; her storytelling is on its own tier. She has found a way to write with a lilt that mirrors her setting. Long and lurching, her writing in PEACES conjures the experience of walking the stretch to your seat aboard a moving locomotive. Characters and plots sway in and out of focus as she carefully constructs a universe around readers, leaving them wondering where exactly they are until her final pages. Like expanses of window-framed landscapes, Oyeyemi’s descriptions are delightfully meandering. The tone of her writing is both whimsical and discomforting.

PEACES is a wild (train) ride that is just about impossible to disembark.

Reviewed by Kayla Provencher on April 9, 2021

by Helen Oyeyemi

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593192346
  • ISBN-13: 9780593192344