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Over the course of five novels, Nigerian-British writer Helen Oyeyemi has emerged as one of the most unnervingly original writers at work anywhere, thwarting expectations with a fierce glee. Her first collection of linked stories, “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours,” audaciously samples genres from fantasy to pop culture to science fiction to academic satire, creating a disquieting world that exists as a shadow version of our own.

It’s a credit to her protean talent that she can evoke, at least for one reader, A.S. Byatt and George Saunders, Dr. Who and the Brothers Grimm, YouTube videos and “The Lord of the Rings” and yet stand apart, a stylist like no other. Fasten your seatbelts for the ride.

Or perhaps unfasten them. What binds the collection together is Oyeyemi’s use of keys, literal and metaphorical, that unlock (or not) the mysteries of what it means to be human. (It also helps that several characters appear throughout the book, a kind of novel in stories in which their fates are gradually revealed — or not.) The opening piece, “books and roses”(story titles are all lowercase), portrays clandestine love inside a vast library and secret garden.

“Is your blood as red as this?” unfolds in a sinister puppet school where pupils and marionettes mingle, their identities fluid: “Rowan is male to me,” one puppet says of another. “He’s female to Myrna. For Radha and Gustav Rowan is both male and female. Perhaps we read him along the lines of our attractions. … He just shrugs and says: ‘Take your pick. I’m mostly tree, though.’ ”

This playfulness pervades the brilliant “presence,” which is about married psychologists and a scientific experiment gone wrong (or maybe right). As a rebuke to realist fiction, Oyeyemi taps a vein of European folk tales, as in “dornicka and the st. martin’s day goose,” her retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Hungry wolves, stopped clocks, puckish demons, mournful ghosts — all are right at home here.

In its weaker moments, the collection can seem ornate and self-conscious, its funhouse mirrors designed to shock. But Oyeyemi strikes notes of poise and elegance as well, as in this description of the interior of one character’s college library: “At night the stained-glass figures in the windows seemed to slumber, and the lamps on each desk gently rolled orange light along the floors until it formed one great globe that bounced along every twist and turn of the staircase to the upper levels. When she surveyed the entire scene it seemed to be one that the stained-glass figures were dreaming. And she was there too, living what was dreamed.”

In less gifted hands, these stories would fly apart, casualties of their own centrifugal energy. Oyeyemi remains in perfect control, though, her voice bracingly unique, with “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours” a testament to her growing reputation as a contemporary master.

Hamilton Cain is the author of “This Boy’s Faith: Notes From a Southern Baptist Upbringing.” He lives in Brooklyn.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
By:
Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher: Riverhead, 325 pages, $27.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

By: Helen Oyeyemi.

Publisher: Riverhead, 325 pages, $27.