Author: Gregory Maguire
First Published: 1999
Page Count: 368
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 5/5 Stars
For those of us that miss the fantasy of childhood fairy tales, Maguire gives adults a chance at recapturing that fanciful feeling with the addition of an enticing, mature plot.
*Original take on a beloved childhood fairy tale *Gloomier, mysterious feel
“…what is the use of beauty?” You may think you know the famous story of Cinderella, but as her ugly step sisters, Iris and Ruth Fisher, will show you, the reality of Clara van den Meer’s life is darker than the happily ever after story that time has painted. Clara indeed possesses the otherworldly beauty that captures the prince’s attention as we know in the story, but hidden beneath that beauty is a person who has willfully chosen to shut herself away in her lavish home out of fear and habit. Her new step sisters must try to unravel the secrets of Clara’s past for the safety of their new families future.
Because I didn’t enjoy The Wicked Years series about the wicked witch of the west by Maguire, I didn’t think I would enjoy this book either, but I had bought it so I might as well read it. I thought it would be hammered down in politics the way those books were, but, in fact, this book was the perfect blend of fairy tale and reality. It’s exciting to read another take on a popular childhood fairy tale, but it’s even better when the story is so different from the original or any other adaptation. It is so unique, I almost felt the story could have stood on its own without being related to Cinderella. There are only a few references to the original story, such as her name or the notorious slippers, but those references all topple in at the end of the book, as if to remind you that you’re supposed to recognize this story. There is a darkly whimsical take to how Cinderella grows up that is actually more engrossing then the original tale this book is based on. However, the feisty anti-hero of the book, Clara’s pitiful stepsister Iris, is just as interesting to follow along with.
The one thing that struck me with this book was the vocabulary used. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here or anything, but I do read a lot of books with a lot of different verbiage. Therefore, I was secure in the knowledge that I should be able to concur any book that comes across my path. However, a lot of Maguire’s choice of words seemed almost made up. It probably didn’t help that the used book I had bought had every troubling word underlined, which only made it burst off the page the minute I’d laid eyes on it. I think it’s always good to expand one’s vocabulary and I like a challenge, but the words were so strange-looking on the page that sometimes I couldn’t tell whether I needed a dictionary or a decoder for some made-up language Maguire had penned.
This type of book is the reason I read. It lets you explore fairy tales again and not feel like you must have a simple plot and characters to experience that magic and mystery. There is only one more book by Maguire that takes on a twisted look at a popular fairy tale, but after reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I really wish the author would take a stab at a few more of my childhood favorites. There are so few authors that can entertain adults in fantasy the way Maguire has done with this book.
*TV Adaptations: (TV Movie, Starring Stockard Channing 2002)