Book Review: Mothers Grimm by Danielle Wood #aww2015

Title: Mothers Grimm
Author: Danielle Wood
Genre: contemporary/fairy tale retellings
Date Read: 08/11/2015
Rating: ★★

Review:

mothersgrimmcoverIn Mothers Grimm, Danielle Woods presents four shorter stories that break down the “Good Mother” trope/stereotype often found in fairy tales (the Good Mother is often so good that she is dead). Each story is linked to a fairy tale but turns it on its head to depict the realities of motherhood.

Well, this was disappointing.

A disclaimer: I am not a mother and I don’t have any intentions to become one. It is possible the stories in this book may have resonated with me more if I had children.

The four stories all depicted pretty bleak outlooks on motherhood. The women felt trapped in failing relationships, or resentful of the children who were taking up their lives, or just plain unhappy. To read these stories, you would think that there wasn’t a single rewarding aspect of being a parent. You would think that being a mother completely ruins lives.

The four characters were all well-written and individual, but none was especially likable. One of them was a bitchy gossip. Another lied to her husband about being on the Pill, then seemed to try to make out it was his fault when she fell pregnant a second time. The third was an eighteen-year-old who had made some bad choices; I didn’t mind her too much. The fourth was a mother in the 1950s who felt she was disappointing her own mother. The problem was that I wasn’t invested in any of them. I think perhaps part of the author’s aim was to make these women unlikeable, to ensure there was not one ounce of Good Mother in them. But what’s wrong with a woman succeeding in at least some areas?

The other issue was that I came in expecting some kind of fantasy or fairy tale element. This was absent. Even the links to the fairy tales were tenuous at best. Perhaps that’s my own fault for coming in with expectations of something that wasn’t, but I still felt a little bit ripped off at the end of it.

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth #AWW2015

Title: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Historical fantasy
Date Read: 05/10/2015 – 16/10/2015
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

bittergreensFirst of all, a note on the hashtag in this post’s title. I recently learned about the Australian Women Writers challenge, a challenge which aims to highlight quality books written by Australian women. While I feel I’ve come in a bit late to join in on the challenge properly for this year, I thought I might as well jump on the bandwagon where I can. And now on to the review!

This book was recommended to me by a colleague, who allegedly got drunk with Kate Forsyth on one occasion. That’s not why he recommended it to me, though; that has more to do with the fact that I had been talking about Grounded: the Adventures of Rapunzel, and how I was interested in tracking down other Rapunzel adaptations.

Bitter Greens weaves together the stories of Rapunzel (here called Margherita, or Petrosinella) and the witch who holds her captive with that of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, the French novelist who wrote the fairytale we now know as Rapunzel. Unlike many (most?) of the fairytale retellings I’ve read this year, this one is actually adult fiction, in a historical fantasy style, so it was quite different to what I’m used to. I still enjoyed it a lot, though.

The majority of the book is focused on Charlotte-Rose, and alternates between her time imprisoned in an abbey by order of the King (this is where she hears the Rapunzel story) and earlier times in her life. Forsyth’s descriptions of Versailles and life at court are opulent and sensual, made more so I think by the fact that these sections are in first person.

The story of Selena Leonelli, the witch, are also in first person, but only take up a few chapters of the book. It doesn’t defend her actions, but it does explain why she does what she does. Margherita’s story is in third person, and to be honest, it was the one I had the most investment in (I was there for the Rapunzel story after all). Seeing Margherita’s struggle to not go mad as she is shut up in that tower was exactly the kind of thing I had been looking for when I asked for Rapunzel recommendations on GoodReads some months back.

As I said, this story did have elements of fantasy in it, but I would also consider it my first foray into historical fiction. It’s definitely got me interested enough in Kate Forsyth’s writing to look up some more of her works, particularly The Wild Girl, which is the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild (does that not sound perfect?) and The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in the Second World War. I think she is definitely an author worth plenty of time.