In the opening pages of “Mr. Fox,’’ the latest novel by Nigerian-born author Helen Oyeyemi, a novelist’s creation turns on him with reproach: “What you’re doing is building a horrible kind of logic,’’ she says. “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.’’ This sounds like a fair description of the steel-trap logic of speculative fiction in general, and of fairy tales in particular, yet it is easy to see how for the narrative subject herself, such logic can be a prison cell - even, as for Bluebeard’s wives, a death sentence.
“Mr. Fox,’’ like Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber’’ before it, draws inspiration from what Carter called the “latent content’’ of the Bluebeard tale about the wealthy aristocrat who entraps and kills off a series of wives. The character is woven through the novel in such guises as Grimm’s Fitcher, the werefox Reynardine, and the British Mister Fox. Though Oyeyemi doesn’t have Carter’s fierceness, nor what might be called her intellectualism, the two share an interest in using fairy tales to explore how things might be different, for women in particular. For one, Bluebeard allows Oyeyemi to pose questions of fidelity: Must being true to one love mean “killing’’ previous ones? What lasting responsibility does a writer have to his characters (and vice versa)?