Monday, June 4, 2012

Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue

I was surprised, just now: I looked up the publisher for Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue  and it turned out to be HarperTeen (HarperCollins). I believed this to be an adult book--and while I think there's nothing in here objectionable for teens (though their gatekeepers still may, as always) the style simply struck me as "written for adults." (I'd have liked to have read this as a teenager, but I think I appreciated it more now.)

Kissing the Witch is Donoghue's reimagining of a collection of tales that you might recognize if you read the Lang fairy books. It begins with Cinderella, who does get to go to the ball--without any interference from stepsisters or stepmothers. It's lovely, and she's the belle, but something's not right. She dances and twirls and loses her slipper, but it's no matter. She'd prefer her godmother over the prince.

At the end of the tale, Cinderella asks of her godmother: and what's your story? The rest of the book braids together a variety of tales, each leading into the next, each revealing the life of some woman who has been playing a vital role. There are friendships, loves, children, and pain, sorrow, and wonder. The focus is on the women, and even when they're in situations that are terrible--the everyday violence of women's worlds, the frustration of breaking out of gender roles--even when they fail, the women are so centered in the stories that it still feels right, unflinching, and true. Of course, the language is lovely, with unexpected phrases throughout.

I've expressed frustration with fairy tale retellings before, but been unable, sometimes, to express what I am looking for; I'm looking for something like this, where the original tale is still there, but what is retold (plot, themes) is varied and original in shape. Bring me something fresh and brave, and that's worth the pages.

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