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Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins

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Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances--sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one's own path in the world. In these fairy tales, women young and old tell their own stories of love and hate, honor and revenge, passion and deception. Using the intricate patterns and oral rhythms of traditional fairy tales, Emma Donoghue wraps age-old characters in a dazzling new skin.

2000 List of Popular Paperbacks for YA

228 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1997

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About the author

Emma Donoghue

82 books11.4k followers
Grew up in Ireland, 20s in England doing a PhD in eighteenth-century literature, since then in Canada. Best known for my novel, film and play ROOM, also other contemporary and historical novels and short stories, non-fiction, theatre and middle-grade novels.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 825 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel.
219 reviews178 followers
December 23, 2011
Frustratingly simplistic. These are easy reversals of fairy tales, and stand or fall based entirely on the reader's agreement with the reversal, rather than as stories on their own. I like the idea of lesbian friendly fairy tales - I, for one, am someone who always wanted to kiss the witch, as the title proclaims - but there must be a way of telling those stories without leeching all the power of the original. Threat is powerful - the danger and ugliness of fairy tales are why they have stayed with us so long. If all the witches and the stepmothers are good, if all Rapunzel wants is to stay in her tower and love her foster-mother, what is the story about? These versions too often felt that they were going for the easy way, switching the fairy tales simply to make all the female characters amicable to one another. I would like romantic love between women which is a little more hard-won, not the twist ending that these stories made it. And if Snow White is going to stay with the stepmother who did threaten to kill her, I'd like a little more of the emotional complexity behind that decision.

I'm so hard on these stories partly because they came so near to being something that I would love. And I very much wanted to love them, but in the end they were just too straightforward, their prose affected rather than organic, each ending on the same emotional note. And there are better fairy tale rewrites out there - try the terribly under-appreciated Donna Jo Napoli, who is all about emotional complexity.
Profile Image for Stef Rozitis.
1,458 reviews70 followers
March 4, 2017
Out of all the (so far 72) books I have read this year, this one was DEFINITELY my favourite, and yet I know it won't be for everyone. It's a group of short stories, familiar fairy tales rewritten to be very feminist, somewhat queer (in the broad sense) and to link together so that each story is the story of one of the characters in it who interacts with another character and at the end of each story the next character is asked to tell their story.

The magic in the story is sort of made natural and earthy instead of as fantastical. These are stories of women's relationships of love, hate, rivalry, betrayal, sisterhood. Men figure as fathers, brothers, love or lust-objects and frequently weak or betraying side-characters.

The writing is very calm and deceptively simple- there is just enough description but not self-indulgent waffling. There are some sex scenes but they are written obliquely rather than graphically. The stories tantalise because at the end of each I wanted more detail and follow up for characters I had bonded with but the book's progress was always on to another story. I half-hoped the circle would be completed at the end but even though the stories link in a chain each is a tantalising stand-alone.

But although there are details left not coloured in (like how did a woman in one of the stories become a horse? That never gets explained) overall each story is satisfying whether it is sad or romantic- there is hardship and conflict and the difficulties of social class and personal flaws in each heroine but the stories overall are about strength, courage, resourcefulness and redemtion each in its own way.

I think my favourite one was the cottage, because it took the earliest story I can remember hearing from my parents and changed it beyond recognition. Also because the characters in it were morally complex...though that is true for the whole book. The pace of the stories may be simple but the "bad guys" are not really bad they each have a place in society that constructs who they are as do our heroines. The balance between what society makes each character and how they fight to define themselves over-against social determinism is part of what I loved.

And for me (here's the part not everyone will like) I like women loving women in a story...and there is plenty of that. While sex is not absent, the focus is on intimacy, comfort, nurture and friendship. As I prefer it. I don't think it's one you'd try to stop your kids reading.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
August 11, 2018
4.5 stars. This is a very creative, atmospheric book of fairy tale retellings, with some of the best writing I've ever seen. I love how three-dimensional some of the tales are, and how she got these lovely characters developed in so short a time.

The Tale of the Shoe: 5 stars. I don't think anyone can ever understand how much I love this Cinderella retelling. It's about being who you're supposed to be, or being who you truly are.
And then, because I asked, she took me to the ball. Isn't that what girls are supposed to ask for?

The Tale of the Bird: 4 stars. This is a story about freedom and making your own decisions. It ties in much more smoothly with its predecessor than many of the stories tie together.
He would never let anything hurt me, but he would never let anything touch me either.

The Tale of the Rose: This retelling of Beauty and the Beast gets five stars simply for its last line, which is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Aside from the last line, I suppose this isn't much of a retelling, but it's enjoyable and emotional nonetheless. I can't say the quote because it spoils everything, but I loved it so much I accidentally memorized it.

The Tale of the Apple: 5 stars. A pitch-perfect retelling of Snow White with far more strong girls. This almost reminded me of Once Upon A Time's morally grey queen. Also, it connects nicely to its predecessor.
Say that I am queen, she said, her fingers whitening around the scepter.
If you really were, I told her, it would need no saying.

The Tale of the Handkerchief: 5 stars. This isn't a typical retelling; I suppose you could call it The Goose Girl, but it comes from the point of view of that story's villain. This is an odd, yet strangely enticing story. The ending is especially beautiful.
And then the tears did come, and I hoped they were for her, a queen dead in her prime, and not just for my own treacherous self.

The Tale of the Hair: 3 stars. I don't love this story; it's not very strong thematically, and the main character is slightly obnoxious. That being said, it's interesting and enticing and definitely worth a read.
You should've known better than to give me what I asked for, I whispered. Now the wind is scented with lavender, and the wolves howl because they cannot have him, and when he blows his horn, I will go to him.

The Tale of the Brother: 4 stars. I have no idea what happened in this story but I enjoyed it. It's sort of a retelling of Hansel and Gretel but not... quite.
I have never been content to be nothing but a girl.

The Tale of the Spinster: 3 stars. A retelling of Rumplestiltskin. This one is interesting, although not the strongest thematically.
If I have trampled you, it was to mesh your fibers into something useful.

The Tale of the Cottage: 2 stars. The voice is just too weird and disjointed here. I understand the point, but this retelling of Hansel and Gretel just falls flat.

The Tale of the Skin: 5 stars. A princess who runs to become a pauper, a pauper who fails at getting the prince. There is something so unspeakably beautiful about this story. It's so messed up and so gorgeous. It's also the source of one of my other favorite quotes from this brief book.
See this leaf, little girl, blackened under the snow? It has died so it will be born again on the branch in spring time. Once I was a stupid girl; now I am an angry woman. Sometimes you must shed your skin to save it.

The Tale of the Needle: 4 stars. A retelling of sleeping beauty that discusses the darker elements of the tale– for example, that the parents keep their daughter locked away for her whole life.
I was innocent of all effort; I was blank as a page.

The Tale of the Voice: 5 stars. This retelling of The Little Mermaid addresses the fact that a woman must lose her voice to get the man of her dreams. Here, the witch is not the villain; the girl's own worshipful love is.
Perhaps we get not what we deserve, but what we demand.

The Tale of the Kiss: 5 stars. This story is a show-stopper, written with such a gorgeous voice. I love the main character here.
Power I had to learn how to pick up without getting burnt, how to shape it and conceal it and flaunt it and use it, and when to use it, and when to still my breath and do nothing at all.

This aching short story collection is recommended to everyone.
Profile Image for Zen.
29 reviews39 followers
February 17, 2013
"Climbing to the witch's cave one day, / I called out, / Who were you / before you came to live here?/ And she said, / Will I tell you my own story? / It is a tale of a kiss."

Do you ever find a book and just know it's going to be everything you love in the world? Only you can't read it right away because it's not the right time, or you're not in the right mood, and you want everything to be perfect. What if you're wrong about it and it doesn't live up to your expectations? How will you find another story to fill the void? So it sits on your shelf or at the back of your mind, consciously overlooked, patiently waiting for you to get your shit together and give it a read.

"In the orchard, I asked, / Who were you / before you married my father? / And she said, / Will I tell you my own story? / It is a tale of a handkerchief."

Kissing the Witch was like that for me. I love kisses! I love witches! I love stories about ladies, and lady relationships, and lady rivalries tempered with empathy and an understanding of both sides! I love retellings of fairy tales, especially when they come in collections of short stories! Plus I already knew that I liked Emma Donoghue's writing quite a lot, so with all of that going for it, naturally this book called out to me. And so I bought it. And so I hesitated.

"I stumbled along the bridge, caught her / sleeve and asked, / Who were you / before you became Little Sister? / And she said, Tell you story? / Tale of cottage."

Luckily for me, Kissing the Witch was all I wanted it to be and more! In this collection, thirteen reworked fairy tales are linked by a common thread of each woman being asked by another who they were before. Before they became witches, stepmothers, spinsters, beasts or crones, they were princesses — maids — sisters — daughters — simply girls with their own familiar stories. The thread winds back through generations of storytelling, ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch herself. Each heroine makes her own decisions. Each woman takes her classic story into her own hands, and takes responsibility for the things she's done. Most importantly, each one listens to the other and to herself: an orphaned princess hears out her stepmother; an imprisoned queen asks after the past life of a rescued bird; a Cinderella runs from the ball not because it's midnight, but because her fairy saviour is far more beautiful and interesting than her besotted prince.

Gathering my thoughts, I wonder, who was I before I opened this book? And I say, Will I tell you my own story? It is the tale of a market saturated with re-imagined fairy tales billing themselves as original and groundbreaking, when in fact some of the best such stories are already out there. Gail Carson Levine was my favourite as a kid. The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold fundamentally affected me when I read it in my teens. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is one of my all-time favourites, period. And now I can firmly place Kissing the Witch on the same pedestal in my heart. It was wonderful and thoughtful and brilliant and poetic and wise, and I just want to read it again and again.
Profile Image for Jacki Kellum.
1 review3 followers
June 10, 2008
At first glance, Kissing the Witch appears to be a simple anthology of fairy-like tales. Upon deeper reading, it becomes clear that the separate stories are fragments—or different points of viewing one continuous thread. The way that the fragments are woven together is brilliant.

Early, the reader is aware that there are continual suggestions of tales that he/she has heard since childhood. Hints are dropped here and there; and they glimmer beneath the surface of the text. The images are repeatedly revisited; and the reader is invited to gather them and piece them into any of several possible interpretations.

Reading the book is like following behind Hansel and Gretel -- picking up the strewn clues and seeking the the messages hidden along the paths. The plot twists and turns at a dizzying rate of speed, weaving an intricate and passionate tapestry that celebrates and empowers woman in her universal quest to know and befriend all of the complex voices within herself.
Profile Image for Juliet.
Author 90 books10.9k followers
September 26, 2012
Kissing the Witch is a quirky collection with the sub-title 'Old Tales in New Skins' - it contains thirteen re-imagined fairy tales by Irish writer Emma Donoghue. Donoghue's publishing credits include a non-fiction book on lesbian culture, and a lesbian sensibility is evident in this collection. Gay readers should especially enjoy this twist on some of the traditional 'boy meets girl' fairy tales.

As a long-time student and lover of traditional stories, I found Kissing the Witch beautifully crafted and highly entertaining. I enjoyed the way Donoghue used a traditional storytellng style to present the reader with something fresh and new, yet as wise as the ancient tales that were its inspiration. Highly recommended for anyone who loves fairy tales and can appreciate an imaginative take on traditional material.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews9,764 followers
November 8, 2007
Donoghue combines self-righteous messages with blatantly didactic interior monologues which can only appeal to those already believing everything she says. She spurs no thought which was not already there, and in writing a book which never aspired to art, has done what your average writer does: increase the general volume of words in print, and nothing more. A string of random monkey-typed characters would have aided mankind as well.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
March 19, 2015
"Climbing to the witch’s cave one day, I called out,
Who were you
before you came to live here?
And she said, Will I tell you my own story?
It is a tale of a kiss."

I had heard of Emma Donoghue mostly because people kept talking about her novel Room. This, however, was the first encounter I have had with her writing.

Kissing the Witch is a clever little book that takes well known fairy tales and tells them from the perspective of different women involved in the stories. Each story is then linked through the characters who each tell their own story.

It's a lovely structure and the book made for captivating reading. After all, Donoghue is a great story-teller. However, if we criticise that fairy tales are in need of modernisation because of the dated stereotypes and gender inequality, then Donoghue's approach is equally flawed. It's an entertaining read but hardly any of the male characters are portrayed as decent human beings. It just doesn't do to try and fight fire with fire - or in this case sexism with sexism.

2.5* really but not rounding up.
Profile Image for Holly Dunn.
Author 1 book769 followers
August 22, 2017
I picked this up because Kirsty Logan of The Gracekeepers said that it was very influential for her. These are fairytale retellings with a feminist twist. They’re also stacked like Russian dolls, so at the end of one retelling you’ll have the ‘villain’ tell their backstory, and the witch of one tale becomes the heroine of the next. Your favourite fairy tale will probably be in here. There’s a Little Mermaid retelling which was probably my favourite.
Profile Image for Corrie.
1,517 reviews4 followers
September 20, 2020
I'm on a Emma Donoghue kick atm. Reading two of her books at the same time. I wouldn't normally do that but fairy tales are always easy to read on the side.

Kissing the Witch was Donoghue's first story collection, a sequence of thirteen re-imagined fairytales, inspired by traditional European sources (Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Hans Anderson). I'm sure you will recognize many of your favorite fairy tales.

I love how all the stories were connected. The author says about this:

"One aspect of Kissing the Witch which I must admit was initially a simple ploy to link the stories and so make them more marketable – the device of having each be told by its protagonist to the protagonist of the previous story – has turned out to be the part that intrigues academics most."

I love fairy tales and Donoghue did a splendid job. A real treat!

"Kissing the Witch is written with luscious words you want to roll around on your tongue... Donoghue transmutes base vignettes into gold." – New York Times Book Review

"These bold rewritings of fairy tales from the perspectives of their female protagonists are salvaged from the political soap-box by Donoghue's sense of humour and delight in the rhythmic mythologies of the genre. ... An original and playful endeavour." – Guardian

5 stars

Profile Image for fae.
82 reviews47 followers
December 12, 2018
If there's one thing I love more than fairytale retellings, it is a bunch of gorgeously written fairytale retellings with a splash of gay and a feminist flair to it, that kicks all the mothereffing tropes right in their faces.
Profile Image for Charmaine.
43 reviews2 followers
May 15, 2022
As eerie and erotic in a worrisome way as I remember. A classic of sapphic fairytale retelling.
Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews381 followers
May 4, 2016
If I were to use one word to describe this book, it would be clever.

“Change for your own sake, if you must, not for what you imagine another will ask of you.”

These are considered fairytale re-tellings with a feminist twist, but the best part is that they are all connected as a woman asks the other who they were "before", and together they make a novel that leaves you begging for more.

They were girls, princesses, innocent or not so, all before they became witches, stepmothers, crones. These stories speak of their rivalries, loves, endurance, relationships, how everything amounts to who we are and what we do, a fight against perfection, betrayal, hate.

“There are some tales not for telling, whether because they are too long, too precious, too laughable, too painful, too easy to need telling or too hard to explain. After all, after years and travels my secrets are all I have left to chew on in the night.”
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
January 16, 2013
I've wanted to read this for ages, so when I had insomnia last night seemed like a good time. This book is a series of interlinked, usually traditional, fairytales, featuring the voices of women trapped within them -- sometimes with lesbian relationships, sometimes just (just!) the complicated relationships between women.

For me, it felt a little flimsy, maybe not quite as magical as I'd hoped, but overall it was enjoyable. Mostly, I wished it was longer, that there was more of it. I think I enjoyed the Little Goose Girl story the most.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,433 reviews827 followers
May 19, 2018
Interesting that I really like this author’s work, but this was published nearly 20 years ago and she has obviously improved over time! These were ok but not terribly memorable.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,431 reviews543 followers
July 17, 2009
The book begins with "The Tale of the Shoe," told by Cinderella. Her fairy godmother gives her everything she needs to dance with a prince--but in the end, she realizes she'd rather have the fairy godmother. At Cinderella's urging, the godmother tells her own story, which prompts the next story, and so on. Each short tale is inspired by a fairy tale; each is told by a woman (although some have become birds and horses and witches since then). Some are more revolutionary than ohers: Hansel and Gretel's is great, but Donkeyskin's is almost the same as the original. Donkeyskin's tale is also part of the problem, because the ending of each of these is just a bit too happy for me. Each princess and serving girl comes to contentment in the end, generally with each other. I'd have liked to see a little more dialog and negotiation between each pair (and some pairings are a bit too cross-generational for me, like Snow White and her stepmother, or Rapunzel and her adopted mother), but ah well. It's still a nice change from usual trope in which being queer means you die or go mad.

Donoghue's descriptions are sublime, but don't overtake her stories. Probably my favorite of them all is "The Tale of the Kiss," told by the witch from the Little Mermaid story. I love the idea of magic as a social construct!
Profile Image for Scarllet ✦ iamlitandwit.
142 reviews91 followers
July 7, 2018
Kissing the Witch is absolutely beautiful. You can't go wrong with haunting language and such bewitching storytelling befitting a fairy tale storybook. It helps that these retellings are wonderfully sapphic wink wink. So many of these are women taking charge of their destinies, of their fates, of their bodies. I also thought that connecting every tale through the "Will I tell you my own story?" bit was a nice way to intertwine these women like what a pleasure!!

My independent ratings for each tale is:
The Tale of the Shoe: 4
The Tale of the Bird: 4.5
My life was in my own hands, now, beating faintly, too small yet for anyone to notice. I cupped freedom to my breast. I would feed it, I would love it; it would grow big enough to carry me away.

The Tale of the Rose: 5++++
In this life I have nothing to do but cavort with the wind, but in my last it was my fate to be a woman.

I truly adored this Beauty and the Beast retelling. It's 100% my favorite, or at least in my top two favorites of this anthology.
The Tale of the Apple:3.5/4
The Tale of the Handkerchief: 4
The Tale of the Hair: 4
The Tale of the Brother: 4.5
The Tale of the Spinster: 4
The Tale of the Cottage: 4
The Tale of the Skin: 3/3.5
Not my favorite of the bunch because of the mad father (you'd get it if you've read it) but I did appreciate the ending.
The Tale of the Needle: 4.5
The Tale of the Voice: 5
But I was coming to realize that my predicament was not unique. At the balls he took me to there were many beautiful young women who didn't say a word. They answered every question with a shrug or a smile. If champagne got spilt down their dresses they only sighed; when the full moon slid out from behind the castle they watched it in silence. I could not understand it. Had they sold their voices too? Even their bodies were silent, always upright, never loosening their lines. They walked like letters on a page.

The Tale of the Kiss: 5++++
On the whole I am inclined to think that a witch should not kiss. Perhaps it is the not being kissed that makes her a witch; perhaps the source of her power is the breath of loneliness around her. She who takes a kiss can also die of it, can wake into something unimaginable, having turned herself into some new species.

The best way to end the book, in my opinion. It ended so strongly! I recommend picking this one up and reading it if not for the fairy tale retellings/lush prose/familiar characters but for the total feminist and empowering stories sprinkled throughout these tales as old as time. And also the sapphic content, ofc!
Profile Image for Elaine Skinner.
625 reviews23 followers
March 31, 2017
Considering I read this in one sitting I definetly have to rate this a solid 4 stars. I haven't read many short stories. I believe Neil Gaimans Fragile Things makes up the entire list of short story collections I have read in their entirety. I'm not a huge fan of fairy tales and I really only enjoy the story of Beauty and the Beast. I believe that a reader who is very familiar with fairy tale lore will receive even greater enjoyment from this book then I did.

I did enjoy each story equally and did not find them to be horrifying or particularly magical. Each story had it's own particular brand of darkness and bits of magic was present in each individual story. I guess I prefer my magic to be more earthy and light. Less curses and more herbs! I was very pleased to realize that each chapter led up to the next. However, I was a bit disappointed by the time gaps. Most of the stories begin in childhood and take the reader into what I assume is early adulthood or late teens for the characters. But, when you meet the character in the previous chapter many years have past between the stories. I guess that's relatively common in short stories.

I will definelty have to read this again as I cannot remember how the characters are connected from one chapter to the next. The stories have become a bit muddled but it's probably due to the speed in which I read devoured this selection. All in all it's a pretty impressive little book!
Profile Image for Cat.
830 reviews143 followers
May 6, 2014
At first, I felt like this book was appealing but super derivative. Inspired by some of the same feminist motives as Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Donoghue puts a new twist on familiar fairy tales. While her lyrical narration and playful recharacterization were immediately appealing, I found the sameness of the revisions somewhat pat. Yes, it always turns out that the evil witch is just a reviled woman; patriarchal culture too often condemns women for being alone, unattractive, powerful, wise. Yes, it always turns out that two women from the fairy tales fall in love with each other or choose to live together instead of choosing the heteronormative "happily ever after option"; the heterosexual triangle insisting that property (in the form of female bodies) must be passed from king-father to prince-son can be powerfully subverted by lesbian desire and homosocial domesticity. But I was finding those two revisions predictable, as much as I liked them in principle.

Then, somehow, the book caught me. Now maybe it was because I started recognizing more obscure fairy tales from my recent reading of Philip Pullman's translation of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, like "Donkey Skin," which is so disturbing in the original and even more so when psychologized from a novelistic retelling. Maybe it was because the intricate links between the tales finally caught me. (She always has a character from the fairy tale before narrate the new story as though it's an explanation of their past, thus making a fascinating daisy chain of loss, self-discovery, and empowerment.) Maybe it was because Donoghue has a gift for the sensory and illuminating metaphor (which she does). Maybe it was because one of these late retellings really spoke to me: "Sleeping Beauty" recast to me about the importance of pain and work and the dangers of being protected in a tower. Also, it seems as the collection went on that Donoghue allowed more of wonderful sense of her humor to sneak in; see the final story narrated by the "witch" from the Little Mermaid fairy tale.

It wasn't that the stories became less didactic as they went on (such is often the nature of fables and fairy tales); it's just that they gripped me more. I ended up really enjoying the collection. Donoghue avoids magic and the supernatural in favor of focusing on myth and legend as a way of obscuring what is poorly understood or dimly desired. Thus, the "little mermaid" becomes a fisherman's daughter, separated from her "prince" by social class rather than a fish tail, and she loses her "voice" because she gives it up to follow him, not because of a hex. While I also devour tales of the supernatural, I also did like the way that Donoghue insisted on this literalism in the midst of her lyrical invocations of tales that we know from a mythic register rather than a material one.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,005 followers
February 13, 2010
Donoghue's feminist retellings of fairy tales is not as original as it would have been when first published, but the beauty and power of her prose is undiminished. The short first-person accounts flow fluidly (sometimes more fluidly than logically) from one to the next, connected by overlapping characters, a technique that elides the traditional good/evil dichotomy of fairy tales. However, readers should resist the tidal pull of the transitions and take a couple of breaks rather than reading straight through, as otherwise the sameness of the voices and ideas becomes a tad wearisome. I am sympathetic to Donoghue's rejection of the model of female powerlessness, objectification, and loss of identity as present in many popular tales, but I would have liked to see a greater variety of responses. The insistence on lesbianism reminded of some French feminist theorists such as Luce Irigaray. The tone of the book can be summed up in a line from the later chapter Tale of the Skin: "Once I was a stupid girl; now I am an angry woman."
Profile Image for Geertje.
720 reviews
June 9, 2020
Reread in 2020.
Bumping this up to 5 stars, because this book has some of my favourite things:
- fairy tale retellings that are actual retellings. Donoghue takes tired old tropes and shakes them up until they are refreshing. I think her book may be one of the only books dealing with fairy tales that I have read that truly does something original (the only other one I can think of right now is Folk by Zoe Gilbert, though Donoghue does subvert the tropes more than she does, I think).
-gaaaaaay. All these stories are so very wlw, and as a lesbian, I approve.
-they're also economical in the sense that Donoghue is very effective in conjuring up a setting and evoking a mood with just a handful of well-chosen words. As someone who tends to ramble, I have so much respect for writers who manage to keep it short and to the point, all crisp and clear.
-that being said, the words Donoghue does use to tell these stories are quite beautiful.
-the stories all link together, and I am SUCH a sucker for that (Folk by Zoe Gilbert also does it). The linking may be tenuous, granted (how did that girl end up as a horse?), but these gaps in the text actually open up the possibility that all these stories are not truly finished, that there are many more tales to tell.
Profile Image for Sarah Verminski.
81 reviews42 followers
May 23, 2013
I absolutely love this book! I read it at a time where I was reading all these re-told fairy tales, but none of them were told quite like this. After I read it I couldn't get enough of Emma Donoghue, and she's become one of my favorite authors.
Profile Image for Ksenia (vaenn).
436 reviews207 followers
March 11, 2019
От і до колекції ретелінгів від Емми Доног'ю дошкандибала. Сама письменниця каже, що жодну книжку вона не писала з такою легкістю. І дійсно, що сюжетно, що структурно “Цілуючи відьму” – ��е монолітний потік свідомості казкової героїні. Вірніше, 13 різних героїнь різних казок, але кожна оповідка закінчується початком наступної, усі вони нероздільно пов’язані, а ще – подібні за настроєм та світовідчуттям.

Тут кожна казка – це історія стражденних жінок. Навіть, якщо ти принцеса – це не гарантує, що ти виростиш/виростеш щасливою/виростеш і вийдеш заміж за кого схочеш/виростеш у підеш у світи робити те, що тобі подобається. З оцим останнім, мабуть, найгірше.

Емма Доног’ю береться розповідати казки по-своєму, і кожна з них працює на спільну мету – зламати канон, який заганяє героїнь у небезпечні або неприйнятні для них рамки. Плюс виразний феміністичний підтекст, де ключовим активним началом є жінка, плюс трішки психоаналітичного підходу, плюс переосмислення стандартних схем гетеросексуальної романтики, плюс відновлення хтонічної справедливості в дусі “Ви так каже “Відьма”, наче в цьому занятті є щось погане” – отакого плану ретелінги. При цьому авторка ніколи не забуває, що вона працює з казковим матеріалом, тому зберігає і стилістику, і логіку першоджерел, ініціаційні схеми та інші приємні серцю фольклористів дрібнички. Просто вивертає їх в потрібний бік. Той, де жіноча групальність рятує, той, де джерелом більшості небезпек є чоловіки (але це не робить автоматом няшечками всіх жінок, нє-нє, права чинити криваву фігню письменниця своїх героїнь не позбавляє), де небезпеки послідовно смертельні, а нагороду наприкінці можна й не отримати. Тобто, іноді піти у захід на своїх ногах – це уже нагорода, любі казкові героїні.

Щось подібне неодноразово робили до Доног’ю, зокрема Анджела Картер на все це уважно дивиться і тихо посміхається, але найсильніший аргумент Kissing the Witch – оця послідовність. 13 різних казок можна починати читати з будь-якого місця, бо вони загалом про теж саме – про те, як вижити посеред казки, якщо ти дівчина. І головне – що з тебе буде, якщо ти виживеш. Одна з героїнь про це каже прямим текстом, і це реченням може бути епіграфом, прологом, епілогом і демотиватором про тяжку правду буття:

Once I was a stupid girl; now I am an angry woman.

Солідно розширений відгук (переважно за рахунок: що за казки і як їх переказують) - так, у блозі.
Profile Image for Glen Engel-Cox.
Author 4 books51 followers
June 19, 2018
When the Brothers Grimm collected the tales told by the women of Germany, they might have thought they were recording the definitive versions of these stories. As scholars, they knew that these tales migrated from place to place and evolved with the times. By gathering them into one place, they may have believed that they would stop this mutable creature, the fairy tale. If so, they were extremely wrong.

The Grimm collection is, however, extremely influential to writers and tellers of fairy stories today, providing, in some cases, the source material as well as the literary precursor. Recent stories by authors like Ursula K. Le Guin (“The Poacher”), Charles de Lint (Jack, the Giant Killer), and Robin McKinley (Beauty) are riffs on the old, akin to the way that rap music samples classic rhythm and blues and uses it to provide the basis of their modern sound. While rap music is not for all tastes, it often encourages interest in the source material (as in the resurgence of interest in Blue Note records following the bestselling album by US3). The reworking of fairy tales shows modern readers that the classic stories have much to say about today’s world, by stripping the Disneyesque exterior of the stories and unearthing the archetypes that lurk beneath the surface.

Emma Donoghue’s name can now be linked to those above as a practitioner of this art. In her new book, Kissing the Witch, she incorporates the plot and themes of “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Little Mermaid,” among many, and interconnects them into an ongoing thread of causal connections and relationships. Kissing the Witch is not quite a novel, for it does not follow any one character or place, and yet it is not quite a short story collection, although it is broken up into sections labelled like “The Tale of the Handkerchief.” Between each tale is a dream-like sequence, in which one character of the previous tale asks a question of another, which leads to the next tale. Like an ever-flowing river, the tales then drift by, separate yet connected. Sometimes a tale does not truly seem to be at an end when the thread is dropped to be picked up by another character, but that’s a minor quibble.

Connecting fairy tales together is not new. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine managed to merge “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding-Hood,” and “The Baker and His Wife” in their Broadway musical, Into the Woods. But Donoghue’s method is not quite the same. Sondheim and Lapine merged their tales; Donoghue strings hers together like a strand of pearls. In Into the Woods, the stories are pretty similar to those we know, at least until the second half which follows after the immortal line “…and then they lived happily ever after.” Donoghue’s fairy kingdom is rarely happy — before or after — and this is especially true for the women who provide the narrative thread. While some might find this off-putting, I found it quite refreshing, as this forces Donoghue into unlikely territory for fairies, a territory that is neither whimsical nor horrific, although it contains the elements of both. More than anything else, her fantasy resembles life, and that’s an accomplishment.
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