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The Juniper Tree

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  648 ratings  ·  100 reviews
In their idyllic garden, Gertrude and Bernard forge a perfect triangle of friendship with Bella, the scarred mother of an illegitimate child. Then Gertrude conceives the child which has long eluded her, and the spell breaks into foreboding, menace and madness.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published December 31st 2003 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1985)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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The Juniper Tree is a retelling of the Grimm's fairy tale of the same name. Comyns' version is set in 1980s London, with the Juniper tree located in the garden of a large house in Richmond. That house and garden, and the couple who live there, are well described, and there's a definite fairy tale atmosphere surrounding them. The narrator, on the other hand, seems very rooted in the twentieth century (though it doesn't sound like the eighties to me but perhaps a few decades earlier).

As I read on,
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is one of Barbara Coymns’ later novels. It is based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm of the same name; you know then that this isn’t going to be an easy read. The plot is very similar until about the last quarter of the book. Comyns reinterprets the ending in a more feminist way; to say more about that would give too much away.
Comyns weaves the fairy tale into a normal domestic life in a very subtle way. Bella is estranged from her mother, has a scar on her face courtesy of the idio
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comyns has a propulsive style. As with her other first-person story I recently read (Our Spoons Came from Woolworths), the narrator tells her story in a naïve fashion. Even when I started wondering what some of the many details had to do with anything, I still felt compelled to keep reading.

The novel is based on a Grimm tale of the same name, so it’s not surprising it contains fairytale elements (even some from other tales): good mothers, bad mothers, stepmothers, stepchildren, a snow “queen,” a
Nancy Oakes
How deceptively simple it all seems, but of course it's not - - and therein lies the secret of this book.

Following in my reading footsteps after Comyns' Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and her The Vet's Daughter, The Juniper Tree is just as good and just as dark in the telling. The thing about Comyns' novels is that she writes very matter of factly, but before you realize it, something has gone awry in the worlds she's created and you are locked in for the duration to see how things work out,
Nate D
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: magpies
Recommended to Nate D by: a stone bear
Shelves: britain, 80s, read-in-2015
Like her spectacular hit The Vet's Daughter, Comyns here takes a kind of social realist approach steadily stylized by the fairy tale structure running beneath it. Having been written some quarter century later it's actually rather less bleak, softer and gentler in many ways despite some of the harsher realities underpinning it. And also, being some quarter century later and set in that present rather than in the interwar past like her older novels, Comyns' concerns here are quite different -- in ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: july-2018, favourites
The Juniper Tree has been adapted from the Brothers Grimm fairy story of the same name of which, author Barbara Comyns writes, 'is far too macabre for adult reading'. The novel, which was first published in 1985, was Comyns' first novel for eighteen years. It has been deemed 'very cunningly continued indeed... [it] could hardly be more satisfactorily accomplished' by the Times Literary Supplement.

Before launching into my review, I have chosen to include the original rhyme from the Brothers Grimm
The Juniper Tree” is a Brothers Grimm story that is at once both unremembered and remembered. Many people think they don’t know, but when you tell them the plot, they go, “oh yeah”. It is also a rather bloody piece of work. (Not as bloody as their story about playing pig slaughter). Barbara Comyns reinvents the tale from an almost feminist perspective. She might not be as rich in language as Angela Carter, but despite its short length the book is far deeper than it first appears.

On one level, i
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: britlit
I never really know what to make of Barbara Comyns or what to write about her books after the fact. This isn't traditionally plotted (or maybe I should say "plot-driven", but both work), and I think a lot of people would be very frustrated with it because of that. It provokes a "that was strange" as much as anything else. And yet. There is a lot going on here, psychologically for the protagonist Bella and interpersonally between all the characters of different classes, races, genders, nationalit ...more
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book choked me with a grief that built slowly, abstractly. As soon as I turned my head in its direction, it was gone. Until that moment I was pacing around my little apartment at 1:00 a.m. and found I couldn't breathe. Barbara Comyns is an excellent writer. ...more
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the very first paragraph where the woman cuts herself peeling an apple and her blood gets in the snow you know this is going to be a bit unsettling, quaint and charming for sure but with that underlying unease and violence. Barbara Comyns writes beautifully - lovely clean sentences with these little unexpected, uncanny touches that make you think 'fuck yeah comyns' ('Mary took off her soiled white raincoat, which reminded me of a dirty candle, and we sat together in the back room drinking t ...more
Carla Remy
Dec 13, 2019 rated it liked it
From 1985
This is a retelling of a fairy or folk tale. So before I read it I looked in a fairy tale book I have, and got to know the original the Juniper Tree. It's one of the dark and violent stories, the action centering around beheading and cannibalism. This Barbara Comyns novel is indeed beautifully written, with the charming creepiness of her Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954), which I love. But this, though good in many ways, is plotless and suspenseless. It takes a long time for anyt
I very much enjoyed this revision of one of the creepiest fairy tales of all time: The Juniper Tree. This was my second novel by Comyns and I can't wait to read more by her. ...more
Mar 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Bella Winter, a young single mother with a scarred face (less disfiguring than she believes), begins her life a second time by taking on the job of running an antiques shop in a strange town. She and her impish, dark-skinned daughter are soon befriended by a well-to-do and very cultured couple who open their lives and their home to Bella and the girl.

Comyns here has written a variation on a Brothers Grimm tale. It begins rather darkly and culminates in tragedy, but the greater part of the book i
Aug 10, 2010 rated it did not like it
The best part of this book was that it was based on a Grimm Tale. Otherwise...
Moira Russell
Ooh, I didn't realize when I bought it this has an intro by Margaret Drabble! Can I get a FUCK YEAH. (Also, Margaret, start collecting your essays, please.) ...more
Barbara Comyns has a very distinct, peculiar way of writing. It is childish at times, and I am pretty sure if she would follow a writing class she'd be chastised for not following the show-don't-tell advice, but it did draw me in.

The Juniper Tree is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale by the same name. It's advisable to read it before reading this story. I would have liked Comyns to do more with the original fairy tale (the main event of the fairy tale takes place very late into the story, we're
A strange 1980's pastiche of the classic Grimm's fairy tale of the same name. This one is a slow burn but Comyns' offbeat style and tone make it worth the effort by the end.
Ceri Blossom
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-reads, fiction
Picked this up to re-read on a whim, more or less; had gone up to bed, and forgotten to bring up with me the book I was already reading, and not wishing to traipse all the way downstairs again to fetch that volume, I picked this up from my bedroom bookcase just to see me to sleep (I like to read in bed till I fall asleep). Having read it before, I thought it wouldn't be too much of an intrusion upon the book I was actually *meant* to be reading, and hadn't intended to continue reading it after i ...more
Nicole Collet
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved "The Vet Daughter" by Barbara Comyns, but I loved this novel even more. Her style is a joy to read, with evocative imagery and a dreamy quality. I would give "The Juniper Tree" 4 1/2 stars only because it dragged a tad in the middle (as one reviewer mentioned it, the search for helping hands grew a bit old). But excellent in general, and, when towards the end there's a twist, it's so powerful and emotional. I enjoyed how a certain marriage was portrayed in a very realistic, progressive a ...more
Rachel Jones
May 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Barbara Comyns is very English. And very twisted. I love her writing. Spare but compelling.
Mar 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Apparently, this is one of Helen Oyeyemi's favorite books. To me, the pacing felt a bit off. But you probably trust Helen's judgment more than you do mine. (As well you should!) ...more
Madeline Robinson
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Andy Weston
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Working class single mother Bella is slowly recovering from a traumatic past. She is scarred mentally and physically from a car accident, and has cut ties with her vain and prejudiced mother, but a job as an assistant in an antique shop turns her life around.
This was my first Comyns, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had forgotten why it had found its way to my tbr list. Now of course, I realise. She flirts with horror. She works hard to create an idyl, and, just when the reader is settled i
Daniel Polansky
A working class woman’s attempt to create an independent life with her young daughter are interrupted by the affectionate attentions of an upper class couple. I really hesitate to give much more description of the narrative than that, other than to say that Comyns is the genre-bending feminist hiding beneath your bed, whispering terrors from with the black depths of bourgeoise, patriarchy induced ennui. That prose got pretty purple there but my recommendation is entirely sincere. I wish I could ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There’s something about Comyns’ direct prose that I really like. In The Juniper Tree, she takes the terrible stepmother from the Grimm fairytale and makes you understand how it could happen. Not only that, you sympathetic with her and fall in love with her. This is a fairytale retelling I can get behind!
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
A fairy tale told in a matter-of-fact way with the typical Comyns touch of the macabre. Very absorbing.
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read the 1985 edition of The Juniper Tree, and will quote from her review in Hampstead & Highgate Express: [It] "has a fairy-story quality, a sharp, bright, lucid clarity of image and narration, a haunting blend of precise realistic detail and hints of magic. In fact, we have here, in a sense, an example of English Magical Realism . . ." I plan to get the 2012 Capuchin release of The Juniper Tree in order to read Drabble's introduction in that edition.

I had never read the tale as told by Broth
Mary Beth (tinybookfort)
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, 2020
2021 needs to be the year of Barbara Comyns. If it blows as much as 2020 (please, no) we can endure it with a hefty dose of gallows humor. I've read The Juniper Tree twice and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead once and the former is the only Comyns I own. Obviously I need to get my act together. ...more
Going to revisit this one, after reading OUR SPOONS CAME FROM WOOLWORTHS. I don't think I was ready for it when I first picked it up. ...more
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Barbara Comyns was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford-upon-Avon and London. Her father was a semi-retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire. She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947. She ...more

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