What a peculiar story this is. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who go to fetch some water every day and on their way they hear the cries of the gobli...moreWhat a peculiar story this is. Laura and Lizzie are two sisters who go to fetch some water every day and on their way they hear the cries of the goblin men selling all manner of luscious exotic fruit:
Apples and quinces, Lemons and oranges, Plump unpeck’d cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches, Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries, Crab-apples, dewberries, Pine-apples, blackberries, Apricots, strawberries;— All ripe together In summer weather
Wise Lizzie keeps her head down and ignores the goblin men's cries of "Come buy, come buy" but Laura is fascinated. She hangs back one evening, buys some fruit with a golden curl and "a tear more rare than pearl" and then:
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She suck’d until her lips were sore; Then flung the emptied rinds away But gather’d up one kernel stone, And knew not was it night or day As she turn’d home alone.
Lizzie, "full of wise upbraidings", waits at the house for her sister, and the next day when the two go to fetch the water in the evening, Laura realises that she can no longer see the goblin men or hear their cries. Laura turns sick with longing for more of the forbidden fruit and, when she appears to be at death's door, incorruptible Lizzie decides to brave the goblin men and heads out into the forest to buy some fruit for her sister. The goblin men are at first willing to sell fruit to Lizzie but when they realise that she wants to take it away and give it to someone else, they turn on her:
Lashing their tails They trod and hustled her, Elbowed and jostled her, Clawed with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking, Tore her gown and soiled her stocking, Twitched her hair out by the roots, Stamped upon her tender feet, Held her hands and squeezed their fruits Against her mouth to make her eat.
But virtuous Lizzie refuses to open her mouth so that even a drop of the fruit juice wouldn't trickle in and runs home, where she invites her sister to:
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me;
Whereupon Laura miraculously recovers and they both live happily ever after.
So, what on earth is this story all about? Is this an exploration on "feminine sexuality and its relation to Victorian social mores" (quoting Wiki here), is it an allegory of temptation and salvation, is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of pre-marital sex or addiction, a celebration of lesbian/sisterly love (choose as you will), a treatise against advertising? All of these, none of them?
Whatever it was, it was a lot of fun. And I disagree with those readers that say that this is definitely not for the children. I read this with my daughter (who is 10) and it is only as dirty as your mind makes it to be (although she did go ewww when Laura was licking the juice off of Lizzie).
We read one of the free versions of this poem available online but I didn't want us to miss out on the illustrations so we did a bit of googling and we looked at the many wonderful pictures that come up and stumbled across this version, which I think deserves a particular mention. (less)
This is a short story collection of nine fairy tales retold. These were certainly beautiful and gave a totally different perspective to some of the st...moreThis is a short story collection of nine fairy tales retold. These were certainly beautiful and gave a totally different perspective to some of the stories while keeping very close to the original with others. They read more like poetry than anything else.
I loved him the way it feels when you get hot wax on the inside of your wrist and while it's burning, just as sudden, it's a cool thick skin. Like it tastes to eat sweet snow, above the daffodil bulbs - not that I've ever found it, but clean snow that melts to nothing on the heat of your tongue so that you aren't even sure if it was ever there. I loved him like spaniel joy at a scent in the grass - riveted, lost.
I'd sit around dreaming that the boys that I saw at shows or at work - the boys with silver earrings and big boots - would tell me that I was beautiful, take me home and feed me Thai food or omelettes and undress me and make love to me all night with the pale trees whispering windsongs about a tortured, gleaming city and the moonlight like flame melting our candle bodies.
She made him want to cry when he walked up the path through the ferns and doves and lilies and saw her covered with earth and dust and ash. Only her eyes shone out. Revealing, not reflecting. Windows. Her feet were bare. He wanted her to tell him the rest of the story. He felt bereft without it, without her. There were only these women with mirror eyes strutting across marble floors, tossing their manes, revealing their breasts, untouchable, only these tantalizing empty glass boxes full of dancing lights he could not hold, only these icy cubicles, parched yards, hard loneliness.
The problem was that with poetry, I have to feel it with my heart rather than my mind and, while I did think these were beautiful, I just didn't love them. I kept feeling like I wasn't really getting these stories and there is a bigger deeper more profound meaning to them that kept eluding me. A quick and interesting read but I doubt I will be coming back to them.(less)
Having just read and adored McKinley's Sunshine and The Blue Sword when I started this book, I was full of love for the author and expecting great thi...moreHaving just read and adored McKinley's Sunshine and The Blue Sword when I started this book, I was full of love for the author and expecting great things. This book is a re-telling of the Donkeyskin fairytale, which I actually do remember from when I was little, though I have to say the incestuous subtext did go completely over my head when I was 5.
Princess Lissar Lisslar is a lonely and awkward child who grows up obscured by the shadow of her glorious parents who are so completely obsessed with each other that they do not seem to notice that they have a child at all and are so totally fantabulous that everyone around them only has eyes for them and is blinded to Lissar's existence. Throughout her childhood Lissar is told stories of the magical fairytale wooing of her mother, the most beautiful woman in the seven kingdoms, by her father, one of the seven suitors who had to go to the ends of the earth to win her.
But then one day, the most beautiful woman in the seven kingdoms falls ill and, because she cannot bear the fading of even the tiniest fraction of her beauty, confines herself to her bed and covers herself up with a veil, so that no one can glimpse her, not even her devastated husband. The queen also orders a portait to be painted, depicting her at the apex of her glory and, as her dying wish, extracts a promise from her husband that he would not marry again unless his new wife was no less beautiful than herself. The king, as they do, goes mad with grief after the queen's death and, on Lissar's 17th birthday, announces his plan to marry his daughter, for she looks so much like her mother.
I knew this book was about rape, incestuous rape at that, going in and I thought this aspect of the story was handled with great understanding and sensitivity. The way McKinley deals with blaming the victim syndrome (what has she done to this wonderful glorious man to make him behave like this? she must be evil and amoral, she must have asked for this and enticed him with her wiles... it is astonishing and disheartening how prevalent this thinking still is in real life, how ready we are to blame victims of sexual assault for what happens to them) and the devastating impact the rape has on her feels genuine and heart-breaking.
So why three stars? Well, I'm just going to put it out there (although I do feel like there must be something wrong with me for not liking the book more) I found this story pretty dull. I don't know if it was because I knew exactly what was going to happen from the very start (but what did I expect, this is a fairy tale retelling?) or if it was the deliberately languid quality of the prose in which McKinley chooses to tell her tale that didn't quite work for me. It also didn't help that I found Lissar to be a complete blank. She is like a bud that is stamped out before it really gets a chance to bloom, before she really finds herself as a person and after, it is all about coping and survival and pushing out the horrific memories and avoiding being herself. And I know that this is exactly how it would be, that it couldn't really be anything else, but it was dull for me to read about a person who is simply pulled like a puppet on a string without any rhyme or reason throughout most of the book.
I wanted Lissar to take control of her life and choose to do something because that is what she wants to do, because she is ready for it and for me, that never really happened, though other readers may disagree with me on this. Even the final resolution, when Lissar finally faces her father again, seemed baffling to me because, again, she seems to be simply pulled into it by the mysterious magical force that has been guiding her steps ever since she left her home, and it is not something that she consiously chooses to do. Also the imagery of the climax was pretty disturbing with Lissar seemingly re-living her rape in order to condemn her father. While this is probably inevitable in this context, it also left me feeling perturbed. Yes, I realise that this is the reality of every rape case, that in order to bring to justice the perpetrator, every rape victim has to re-live their ordeal in front of the police, relatives, lawyers, jury (that is, after all, why so many choose not to report). I just wish there was another way. (less)
Thinking is bad for you. The heroine of this novel, Rae Blaise or Sunshine, as she is better known, finds this out the hard way after she drives out t...moreThinking is bad for you. The heroine of this novel, Rae Blaise or Sunshine, as she is better known, finds this out the hard way after she drives out to the lake to have a think and avoid arguing with her mum. Because while there, she is kidnapped by a group of vampires, dressed in blood red silk and chained in a room with another vampire, Constantine. But clearly, Sunshine is a bright girl (I am still unsure exactly how old she is supposed to be, early twenties, I'd guess) and learns her lesson quickly and pretty much stops thinking from then on. At least enough for her latent powers to reveal themselves and take over her logical processes.
I am doing this all wrong, aren't I? Because, actually, I loved this book. I couldn't put it down. And even the fact that listening to Sunshine is like talking to someone with a severe case of ADD because she keeps diverting and sidetracking until you lose all sense of what she was talking about to begin with and the fact that the book was like the worst kind of tease, sucking you in, turning you on and dumping you with barely a hint of a resolution, no answers to most of the questions and no sequel in sight wouldn't put me off.
I liked Sunshine. Despite her ADD and obsession with baking (I hate cooking with a passion). She felt real. She was sometimes snarky, sometimes frustrating, sometimes puzzling but always interesting and complex and believable as a character.
I've never read any McKinley before but I new fairy tale retellings were usually her thing but that this wasn't quite her usual thing, being a gritty and dark urban tale about vampires. Yet I am not so sure. This is a dark vampire tale but with a healthy dose of fairy (tale) dust sprinkled all over it, I think, and some sunshine. It is a Beauty and the Beast story, which Sunshine tells to Constantine during their confinement and which, I hear, McKinley is a teeny bit obsessed with but it is not really a romance (damn it!).
Yes, Constantine is definitely the Beast of this piece. He is ugly and alien and he smells. No sparklingly brooding underwear models here. No sighing over anybody's eyes and beautiful chests. Yet Sunshine, and I along with her, grows to love him despite herself and the "resolution" to their relationship at the end, while it is incredibly frustrating in its unclarity, is also incredibly sweet (I did tell you this was a fairy tale, right?).
But back to the unclarity (and the biggest fattest BUT of this book). Questions. Questions, questions everywhere. Where did Sunshine's father and the entire Blaise family disappear to? What are the "bad spots"? Why does Sunshine's mum avoid her all the time and why did she leave her father? What precipitated the Voodoo Wars? Has the presense of supernatural beasties always been the reality of this world or have they just crawled out of the woodwork at some point? What is the Goddess of Pain? What is Mel? And so on and so forth. Answers are not forthcoming.
You know that scene in the middle where naked Sunshine lands on equally naked Constantine but, while he initially appears into this, he soon comes to his senses and won't put out and Sunshine is all frustrated with engorged labia and parts to match. Well, I swear McKinley put this in just to illustrate graphically how she was going to leave her readers at the end of this book. Coitus interruptus, are you bloody kidding me? I need the other two books (at least) in this series, which Mckinley is not writing.
I was going to take a star off for that but then, I know for a fact that I am now going to go read every single other book that McKinley has ever written and come back to this one over and over looking for that something that I have possibly missed but really just to spend some time with Con and Sunshine again, even if they are not doing anything new and Sunshine is mainly blathering on about her cinnamon rolls as big as her head. And if that doesn't make a book five star worthy, I don't know what does. (less)
I have to admit that the thing that first attracted me to this book was the wonderful cover art. However, for once, it appears that I was right to jud...more
I have to admit that the thing that first attracted me to this book was the wonderful cover art. However, for once, it appears that I was right to judge a book by its cover. Tender Morsels is a retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red story and, as fairytales go, it is decidedly of the Brothers Grimm variety, dark, vivid and brutal, so do not expect it to be full of sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.
When we meet the main character, Liga, she is 13 years old, living with her father in a lonely hut at the edge of a dark forest and she is having a miscarriage, though she is not yet capable of understanding what is happening to her. In very short order, we learn that Liga is being raped by her father and see her suffering through a number of miscarriages induced by concoctions purchased by the father from a local "mudwife", giving birth to a child resulting from the repeated incestuous rape and then being raped again by a group of town boys. Unable to deal with the trauma of her experiences, Liga attempts suicide but is rescued by a magical "moon babby" and granted her own version of heaven, where she and her two daughters (the second being but a foetus in her womb at that stage) can be safe.
The main theme of this book is one of sexual violence, the effect it has and the process of coping with, surviving and healing from it. Liga's coping mechanism is denial. She escapes to an imaginary world where nothing can harm her, everything is pleasant and even her feelings themselves are muted to a point where she cannot feel any strong emotions at all. But the real world cannot be avoided indefinitely and by ignoring what happened to her, Liga is unable to effectively deal with or move past her experiences. Her world is a safe cocoon, devoid of anything dangerous or unpleasant, but it is also a fake world, devoid of real people or emotions and while it shields Liga from harm, it also means that she is unable to fully experiences life's joys.
"How soft had been her life in that other place, how safe and mild! And here she was, back where terrors could immobilize her, and wonders too; where life might become gulps of strong ale rather than sips of bloom-tea. She did not know whether she was capable of lifting the cup, let alone drinking the contents."
As a parent, I found this theme of living in the real world and facing up to all of its aspects, good and bad, and the damage that over-protecting and cotton wool wrapping can do very interesting. Lanagan's message is quite clear:
"…you are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart. However sweet that other place was, it was not real. It was an artifact of your mam's imagination; it was a dream of hers and a desire; you could not have stayed there forever and called yourself alive. Now you are in the true world, and a great deal more is required of you. Here you must befriend real wolves, and lure real birds down from the sky. Here you must endure real people around you, and we are not uniformly kind; we are damaged and impulsive, each in our own way. It is harder. It is not safe. But it is what you were born to."
It also plays into the debate about whether or not this book is suitable for a young adult audience to which it has been marketed in the US and UK. Personally, I think that it is quite clear that the book was not written as a children's book. There are certainly references and description that a younger audience will not be able to understand fully or relate to, but does that mean that teenagers should not read it? I don't think so.
However much we may wish otherwise, sexual violence is a part of our world, and it is not within our power to completely shield our children from it. This book is a tender and sensitive contemplation of the damage that sexual violence can do and the emotional impact it has on a person and, despite its subject matter, it is never graphic in its descriptions. The violence is not gratuitous, is not at any point glorified and is not there simply to shock. So, my personal view is that this book is appropriate for teens.
Unlike the author of that article, I do not believe children's literature (and let me just pause a second there to note that the word "children" is highly emotionally charged and the book is in fact being marketed at "young adults" rather than 5 year olds) needs to concern itself solely with "singing dwarves and a comedy cruel queen, followed by an innocent peck on the cheek by a handsome prince". Like Ms Lanagan, I do think that trying to hide the real world from your children is likely to do more harm than good and do not feel nostalgic about children's publishing as "a world that used to be a peaceful haven from the sordid realities against which most of us would rather shield our children". Our children these days are constantly bombarded with images of sex and violence and I would much rather my daughter learned about them by reading a beautifully written, tender and gentle book than by watching the sensationalist news coverage of cases such as that of Elizabeth Fritzl or through "smutty playground banter".
Tender morsels is not an easy book and it is not perfect. The middle did drag and I did find the multiple narratives distracting at times and there is a dearth of positive male characters (even Ramstrong, in the end is insensitive and small-minded, at the very least). Yet I found it richly rewarding and loved it despite all those things. I loved Lanagan's prose, so vivid and full of flavour, and the way there are no easy answers or straightforward consequences and even the way it left me feeling so cut up and tender that I am convinced that we as readers are the real tender morsels of the title. (less)
The Tale of Fedot-strelets is a satirical play in verse written in 1985 by Leonid Filatov and is hugely popular in Russia. Leonid Filatov was primaril...moreThe Tale of Fedot-strelets is a satirical play in verse written in 1985 by Leonid Filatov and is hugely popular in Russia. Leonid Filatov was primarily an actor, though he also directed theatre and films and wrote a number of books of which Fedot-strelets is by far the most popular. I have stumbled across a translation into English here: http://samlib.ru/a/alec_v/fed-rus-eng... which may give an English speaker some idea of this book though, inevitably, it is just a shadow of the original as a lot of the humour is in the particular phrasing used by Filatov which is untranslatable.
The play is written in folk fairytale style with some modern terminology woven in to comical effect and you can often hear Russian people using phrases from the book without even realising they are doing so, because many have since become colloquialisms. All the characters are common Russian folklore figures which a Russian audience will recognise immediately.
The main cast:
Fedot, a wise cracking, vainglorious and incredibly lucky hunter/soldier:
The Tsar, a petty and malicious tyrant and an old lothario:
Marusja, a beautiful maiden of typical Russian folklore stock, one who will cook, clean, pander to the man's every whim, play the violin and solve every problem that he has ever had:
They all seem to have huge sad eyes. Don't think the one in the picture turned into a bird of any kind but plenty of them do turn into pigeons, swans, doves and the like. In Russian folklore there were even two types of bird women, Alkonost and Sirin, which I find fascinating. Both used to sing heavenly songs with the former making you forget everything and the latter being prophetic.
Baba Yaga, a forest dwelling evil witch:
The General, a lazy fool happy to follow all orders:
The tale is narrated by the jester who makes a number of shrewd observations along the way and starts with Fedot being ordered by the Tsar to bring a pheasant or a grouse from the hunt. While on this task, Fedot comes across a pigeon who begs him to spare her life and then turns into the beautiful maiden, Marusja. Unsurprisingly, Fedot is not the only one who thinks that Marusja is a real find. Having learned of Marusja from the General, the Tsar sends Fedot on a number of quests thought up by Baba Yaga in an attempt to kill him off on the sly so that the Tsar may marry Marusja, finally sending him to get that which cannot exist. There are a number of side characters including the Tsar's daughter, a spoilt princes who the Tsar tries to marry off to every foreign envoy (including one from a tribe of cannibals) and her nurse, an old woman with a sharp-tongue.
I really love this book but, I guess, when it comes right down to it, it's not a literary masterpiece by any stretch and my love for it has probably more to do with my own nostalgia than anything else. Plus it's really funny (in Russian at least). However, while not being an original folk tale itself, this book is closely based on one and does provide a very accurate and humorous look at the quintessential Russian fairytale and also represents an excellent example of the social and political satire in Russia both at the time when the book was written but also throughout most Russian history, with the Tsar and the General being caricatures of the political and executive powers, respectively, and Fedot representing the people. (less)
I am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have...moreI am generally a very sceptical person. I am an atheist, I don't believe in the supernatural and most conspiracy theories make me laugh. Unless I have seen it or there is (or I think there is) hard scientific fact (or respectable theory) confirming whatever it is, I am not going to believe in it. So, despite the many glowing reviews of this book on this site from people whose opinions on literature I have come to respect, I still didn't really believe that a collection of short stories about kissing written for young adults could be awesome or something I would enjoy.
How wrong I was. This book is Awesome with a capital "A". It is beautiful, clever, poetic, magical and sweet without being twee with that delicious undercurrent of darkness which marks out the best fairy tales. The writing is fantastic, lyrical without being flowery and spicy in a way that makes you want to taste the words and shape them with your mouth and roll them around on your tongue. Almost every page provided a sentence or a passage that would make me stop in my tracks and just read and re-read it and wonder.
I am not overly-familiar with the mythologies which inspired these stories. I have never read Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market" to which the first story alludes. The second story seemed like a retelling of the Orpheus descending into the underworld to retrieve Eurydice myth (which I vaguely remember) but with a Buddhist (or is it Hinduist?) twist (colour me clueless in respect of the latter) and the last story is, apparently, based on Zoroastrianism which I have just looked up on Wikipedia (it is also known as Mazdaism, which made me heh but only coz I iz very immature) and it apparently used to be one of the largest world religions but I have never heard of it up till now. I have heard of Zarathustra but only by proxy of hearing about Also Sprach Zarathustra a book by Nietzsche (not read) and a piece of music by Strauss (heard the bit that was in 2001: A Space Odyssey which is possibly one of the dullest movies ever but I am going off on a tangent here). Anywho, the fact that I was unfamiliar with this stuff did not detract from my enjoyment in the slightest (I generally don't tend to let my ignorance get in the way of things).
These stories managed to bring a bit of magic into my prosaic middle-aged life, where a kiss is mostly just an everyday meaningless meeting of lips and reminded me of a time when a kiss (or the idea of it) was a world changing, life altering, devastating thing. The last story was probably my favouriute, just because it was longer and more layered and complex than the others but they are all fantastic. So, thank you to all the goodreads reviewers who have lead me to this book which otherwise I would not have picked up in a million years (I'm with those who think the cover is hideous) and I hope that all of you other sceptical readers out there will give it a chance.(less)
A hilarious fairytale for adults which proves conclusively that size really does matter and that penises are not as evil as they are sometimes made ou...moreA hilarious fairytale for adults which proves conclusively that size really does matter and that penises are not as evil as they are sometimes made out to be.
A fun, silly and quick read available for free here.(less)