Just like the book Wicked, Gregory Maguire has taken my breath away once again with his outstanding writing style. After I read Wicked I could hardly wait to experience another of Maguire's masterpieces but I wasn't sure whether to read one and let my eyes feast on his wonderful words or again listen to one of the audio versions. In the end I decided to listen to Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and I am glad I did because I now have decided that his writing is such a treat for the ears, that I may never actually read one of his books. His writing is so clever and so lyrical that everything just flows like poetry yet it tells such a wonderful and rich and detailed story. I also love how he takes these well known childhood fairy tales and turns them into such deep political adult themed stories. In Wicked you meet the Wicked Witch of the West and learn about the political climate in Oz. In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister you learn of Cinderella and her family and how they suffer economically from the 1630s Tulip Crash in Haarlem Holland. In both fantastic tales you see the well known stories from the point of view of a not so prominent character.
Obviously from the title you can deduce that this story is going to be told from the point of view of one of the Ugly Stepsisters in the Cinderella tale. As with every story this one has two sides, and it was quite enjoyable to be privy to the minds of these infamous characters. The stepsisters names are Iris and Ruth, and in the beginning of the story they are fleeing to Holland with their mother Margarethe after calamity in their home of England. The story follows Iris, full of spirit, creativity, and a very good heart, but frightfully plain looking bordering on ugly. She must take care of her older sister Ruth who at first Maguire makes out to be someone who is very mentally challenged. I pictured Ruth as having Down's Syndrome because of the physical and mental picture that Maguire paints of her. Their mother Margaretha only wants the very best for her daughters so when they arrive in Holland she begins to look for work as a house maid. Eventually Margaretha finds employment at the van den Meer household (Haarlem's biggest Tulip trader), and she and her daughters take up the kitchen chores. One of Iris's jobs at the van den Meer house is to befriend the van den Meer's daughter Clara, because Clara is a very odd and very anti-social little girl. Eventually Clara's mother passes away and Margaretha manipulates her way into becoming the next Mrs. van den Meer, and so begins the story we all know and love only with a few little twists. Clara choses to be Cinderella, she wants a life of cloister and a life of house hold work. Second, she goes unwillingly to the ball and once she is there it is unclear weather she is a willing party in the prince falling in love with her. Third, Iris and Ruth love Clara very much, the three of them are sisters to the core. Margaretha is however still the evil, over ambitious step-mother from the Disney movie we all know and love.
I love the way Maguire tells not only the fairy tale as we know it, but also tells a story of 1600 Holland, Dutch Art, politics, European superstitions, and financial ruin. He keeps all the same fairy tale themes but the fairy godmother is the old local crone that dubs herself Queen of the Hairy Chinned Gypsies, and the little mice that make the gown and become the foot men is the local artist's apprentice, Caspar. I would recommend this book to anyone that loves historical fiction and those that love a good old fashioned fairy tale. Again I applaud you Mr. Maguire for your fantastic recreation of one of my childhood favorites!
BOOK vs. MOVIE: I would love to see this story as a movie. There was a made for TV movie of it a few years back and I am going to try and get my hands on it for sure. I don't know much about seventeenth century Holland so it would be interesting to see what life was like then. I think Gregory Maguire developed such great characters that it would be easy to develop a script from his writing.
Rating: 4 Stars
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