My rating: 4 of 5 stars
WOW. This is just grade-A super fine writing. EVERYBODY, if you don’t like the stories, that’s fine because you can still learn a thing or two from reading this. Please, we need more writing like this out there, most generously slathered on the YA genre nowadays. It’s a true testament how bad the writing has gotten because reading this anthology has truly restored my original love and the main reason for reading. The descriptions are gorgeous and dosed out in special shards with great impact. So I fully expect myself to search out some of these golden quotes from each story and insert them. Here’s one to start it off:
The Bloody Chamber
This is one based on the Bluebeard myth and it has a sinister undertone that remains right until the end. And in true high feminist fashion, it enacts as deus ex
machina motherina! Despite its grisly bits and some of the sadistic elements, it’s overall cute and sets the mood for the ensuing stories.
“The Marquis stood transfixed, utterly dazed, at a loss. It must have been as if he had been watching his beloved Tristan for the twelfth, the thirteenth time and Tristan stirred, then leapt from his bier in the last act, announced in a jaunty aria interposed from Verdi that bygones were bygones, crying over spilt milk did nobody any good and, as for himself, he proposed to live happily ever after. The puppet master, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandon the rituals he had ordained for them since time began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of his pawns.”
The Courtship of Mr Lyon
This is a rendition of Beauty and the Beast which is my all-time favorite fairy tale. This had also knocked all other “short version” retellings off the shelf and emerged as the best. (Of course, I have a long “novel-length” retelling list too.)
It seemed December still possessed his garden. The ground was hard as iron, the skirts of the dark cypress moved on the chill wind with a mournful rustle and there were no green shoots on the roses as if, this year, they would not bloom. And not one light in any of the windows, only, in the topmost attic, the faintest smear of radiance on a pane, the thin ghost of a light on the verge of extinction.
The Tiger’s Bride
This also adapts the Beauty and the Beast and I usually prefer definite happy endings so this one might baffle some with its vague ending.
It’s The tiger will never lie down with the lamb; he acknowledges no pact that is not reciprocal. The lamb must learn to run with the tigers.
A great, feline, tawny shape whose pelt was barred with a savage geometry of bars the colour of burned wood. His domed, heavy head, so terrible he must hide it. How subtle the muscles, how profound the tread. The annihilating vehemence of his eyes, like twin suns.
I felt my breast ripped apart as if I suffered a marvellous wound.
The valet moved forward as if to cover up his master now the girl had acknowledged him, but I said: ‘No.’ The tiger sat still as a heraldic beast, in the pact he had made with his own ferocity to do me no harm. He was far larger than I could have imagined, from the poor, shabby things I’d seen once, in the Czar’s menagerie at Petersburg, the golden fruit of their eyes dimming, withering in the far North of captivity. Nothing about him reminded me of humanity.
The switching of perspective and use of first-person to third-person is a bit jarring sometimes and the old slang is a bit confusing.
‘You strike me as a cat of parts,’ says this young man when I’m arrived at his window-sill. I made him a handsome genuflection, rump out, tail up, head down, to facilitate his friendly chuck under my chin; and, as involuntary free gift, my natural, my habitual smile.
For all cats have this particularity, each and every one, from the meanest alley sneaker to the proudest, whitest she that ever graced a pontiff’s pillow–we have our smiles, as it were, painted on. Those small, cool, quiet Mona Lisa smiles that smile we must, no matter whether it’s been fun or it’s been not. So all cats have a politician’s air; we smile and smile and so they think we’re villains. But, I note, this young man is something of a smiler hisself.
This sometimes feel like a stream-of-consciousness narrative but it fits the story because the girl is a prisoner. She herself seems to have lost track of time and the storytelling conveyed it.
Eyes green as apples. Green as dead sea fruit.
A wind rises; it makes a singular, wild, low, rushing sound.
What big eyes you have. Eyes of an incomparable luminosity, the numinous phosphorescence of the eyes of lycanthropes. The gelid green of your eyes fixes my reflective face; It is a preservative, like a green liquid amber; it catches me. I am afraid I will be trapped in it for ever like the poor little ants and flies that stuck their feet in resin before the sea covered the Baltic. He winds me into the circle of his eye on a reel of birdsong. There is a black hole in the middle of both your eyes; it is their still centre, looking there makes me giddy, as if I might fall into it.
The Snow Child
The Lady of the House of Love
I particularly like this story because these characters are all innocent in their own ways. It’s unconventional since it’s not really a happy story and it’s reminiscent of what Twilight could’ve been and what some might say should’ve been.
“When she takes off the dark glasses, they slip from her fingers and smash to pieces on the tiled floor. There is no room in her drama for improvisation; and this unexpected, mundane noise of breaking glass breaks the wicked spell in the room, entirely. She gapes blindly down at the splinters and ineffectively smears the tears across her face with her fist.”
Whoa. Bet many people didn’t see the twist coming.
To these upland woodsmen, the Devil is as real as you or I. More so; they have not seen us nor even know that we exist, but the Devil they glimpse often in the graveyards, those bleak and touching townships of the dead where the graves are marked with portraits of the deceased in the naif style and there are no flowers to put in front of them, no flowers grow there, so they put out small, votive offerings, little loaves, sometimes a cake that the bears come lumbering from the margins of the forest to snatch away. At midnight, especially on Walpurgisnacht, the Devil holds picnics in the graveyards and invites the witches; then they dig up fresh corpses, and eat them. Anyone will tell you that.
The Company of Wolves
This story is one of the most riveting I’ve read so far and was the one that lead me on a wild goose-chase. I found out how Rosamund Hodge wanted to write a Little Red Riding Hood retelling with a different ending and it led me to the story. However, I was ever the more curious so I clicked on other links at the bottom of the page which provided me with The Company of Wolves story. BAM! I hit a goldmine.
Aged and frail, granny is three-quarters succumbed to the mortality the ache in her bones promises her and almost ready to give in entirely. A boy came out from the village to build up her hearth for the night an hour ago and the kitchen crackles with busy firelight. She has her Bible for company, she is a pious old woman. She is propped up on several pillows in the bed set into the wall peasant-fashion, wrapped up in the patchwork quilt she made before she was married, more years ago than she cares to remember. Two china spaniels with liver-coloured blotches on their coats and black noses sit on either side of the fireplace. There is a bright rug of woven rags on the pantiles. The grandfather clock ticks away her eroding time.
This is by far the strangest story I’ve read. It jumps all over the place even though there’s a chronological pattern.
Although she could not run so fast on two legs in petticoats, she trotted out in her new dress to investigate the odorous October hedgerows, like a débutante from the castle, delighted with herself but still, now and then, singing to the wolves with a kind of wistful triumph, because now she knew how to wear clothes and so had put on the visible sign of her difference from them.
Her footprints on damp earth are beautiful and menacing as those Man Friday left.