Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty ... and what curses accompanied Cinderella's looks?
I must admit I was slightly dubious about reading this. The cover is so horrendously chick-lit and even the title makes me cringe so much that I didn't want to answer the question, "What are you reading now?" because it sounds so rubbish. However, the story wasn't awfully chick-lit, and I did really enjoy the book.
Fairy tales really are fantastic, but I do love a good old twisted retelling of some ancient tale. Maguire does this well (as he did in Wicked), as the story is told through the eyes of one of the ugly sisters. I really did feel it said a lot about the concept of beauty in our time, perceptions of beauty, and the pros and cons of someone (or something) being beautiful. Beauty is generally (in fairy tales, anyway) related to the goodies. Only the baddies are ugly. Maguire turned this on its head and I absolutely loved it. The ugly are good and beauty makes you suffer! Ooooooohhhhh!
Maguire likes to embellish his prose as much as he possibly can, and for this reason it took me a while to understand and adapt to what was happening in the novel. This is by no means a criticism; the narrative is wonderful once you get used to Maguire's writing style.
Becoming reacquainted with the old tale of Cinderella was quite a nostalgic experience. I loved remembering the story as it was told in a massive fairy tale book I had when I was younger, and then having it contorted in front of me into something completely different to my preconceptions of the tale.
I found the climax slightly disappointing, although realistic. The epilogue read almost like then end of a documentary telling us who's dead, who's in jail, who's married, who's pregnant and who's dying alone. There certainly were some scenes that should've been shown, and some questions that should've been answered. I'm not sure whether this was the best way to end the novel, but it was tragic and touching, with a slight twist which made me question my own perceptions of beauty.
The story is good, the writing is lovely, and Maguire sends a good moral message. I just feel that the idea of the book was astounding, and it began well. Then (and I can’t think of a better expression) it fell on its arse. This is my second foray into Gregory Maguire's work, and although I did enjoy this and may try another novel if I come across one, I won't be in a great hurry to do so.
8 / 50 books. 16% done!