Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Once upon a time...

Have just finished Robert McKinley's 'Spindle's End' which was truly fantastic. It's a rewriting of Sleeping Beauty focussing upon the life of Rose, brought up by another family and with no knowledge of either the blessings or curse placed upon her by 21 fairy godmothers at her christening. Set in a medieval fantasy world it was initially uncomfortable to read, as the sentences are littered with commas and parantheses which can be confusing but these ultimately added to the flamboyance of the narrative.

The story is compelling and the characters truly appealing. Rose is brought up within a powerful family unit consisting of an aunt and her niece. As with the traditional tale, the tiny princess is granted a series of blessings at the opening of the story, followed by a devastating curse. The blessings are superficial and demonstrate societal expectations of this princess - Rosie herself is admirable because she defies these expectations throughout the novel, and at the conclusion powerfully exerts her own independence. It is not just Rosie who demonstrates strength of character - there is a male fairy intended to be the 21st godmother, an ironsmith who turns out to be a fairy, and many other unique and unexpected characters.

Perhaps the most enjoyable feature of the novel was its portrayal of strong female friendships. Rosie herself is surrounded by maternal figures, and it is her relationship with her best [female] friend which dominates the tale, while her unrealised love for the fairy smith is sidelined. McKinley has removed the passive sleeping beauty destined to succumb to her fate and replaced her with a strong and likeable individual who fights against everything her society throws at her. The final kiss is still there, but distinctly subverted.

Check this book out if you enjoyed Coraline or even if you're an Angela Carter fan.


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