Fairy Tale Book Review: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New SkinsKissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I guess I knew who Emma Donoghue was before she was “cool” (i.e., pre-ROOM), since this book has been on my shelf FOREVER … but I didn’t actually read it till after I’d read her more recent stuff. I’m generally 10-20 years behind on my TBR, though, so this is not at all unusual.

Having read her later stuff first, I can see that her writing voice is not quite as strong or refined in this collection, but the prose is still beautiful most of the time, with the exception of a few moments when it becomes vague or a little garbled. But as fairy tale retellings go, these are decent, not often changing the structure of the originals much, but casting their meaning in new light. In particular, I liked that the stories subverted the original trope common in fairy tales of women working against one another in competition, and instead presented heroines who were liberated by or in cooperation with the traditional “villains” in the story.

All of the retellings in this collection are connected, so the protagonist in one story is telling her tale to the protagonist of the previous tale. This forms a backwards running chain that I thought would somehow come full circle, but it didn’t. In some cases, the revelation of who a minor character in one story was in her past made perfect sense — in others, it felt like a stretch, and too bizarre to be meaningful (there are several instances of people being reincarnated as animals). Overall, this particular narrative device felt somewhat gimmicky, and I feel doubtful about whether Donoghue would have applied it later in her career as a more mature writer.

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