Oh, the cleverness of Gregory Maguire to set the reselling of Cinderella in 17th century Netherlands during the tulip fever. In incorporating an artist of the period, as he realizes he must paint only complimentary portraits of the greedy merchants to pay his bills. The stepmother who rises from poverty to become the wife of a wealthy merchant and desire to show off her wealth even as the merchants is bankrupted is great background material for this story of greed and poverty, Love and hate, beauty and ugliness.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is, thus far, my favorite Gregory Maguire novel. It melds a compelling story of adolescence and coming of age with Dutch history (including the boom and bust of the tulip market). Through the eyes of Iris, a fanciful and artist child who grows into an independent woman, we see both a version of the Cinderella fairytale and a realistic sampling of how parents affect children, and their outlooks.
Iris is a generous narrator, and although she is sometimes jealous and petty, she's a very likeable character. Her dull-witted sister, Ruth, creates an element of compassion for the very spoiled, too-protected stepsister, Clara (aka Cinderella). Although I know the Cinderella story well, like most other folks, I was still surprised at the twists and turns this tale took.
Maguire does an excellent job creating characters who are entirely three-dimensional. Even when I was despising Iris and Ruth's mother, I understand her actions, her reasoning, her fears, and her prejudices. Even when I was cheering Iris on, I was shaking my fist at her naivety, and the way she started becoming much like her mother.
I found myself unable to put it down. I recommend it for fans of fairytale retellings, Renaissance history, Gregory Maguire books, and coming-of-age novels.
I agree with the previous comments that this was a bit of a slog at the beginning--but well worth it. And unlike Wicked, you don't have to be familiar with the setting to get a lot out of it, because Maguire basically creates the setting out of whole cloth. A very enjoyable adult version of a fractured fairy tale--worth sticking with it!
Took me a bit to get into, but I loved the twist at the end. That raised it above average for me. (And I love Maguire's concept of turning our fairy tales on their head's by showing another perspective, but I felt he did much better with Wicked.)
This book was really hard to get in to...the first third of the book painted this back story of how Iris and Ruth arrived in Holland. But, you have to read it to really appreciate the outcome of the story at the end. Once Clara emerged as a character and started getting involved in the story, that's when it started to pick up for me. In the end, it was a pretty good book.
waltzingechidna thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over
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