by: Carolyn Turgeon
First of all, hello from Boston! I’m all moved in to a new apartment and not quite unpacked. So my blog will resume it’s normal sporadic updates – yay!
I picked up my first book from Boston, Fairest of Them All, while stopping by the university (where I work) bookstore for a fleece jacket, because it’s fairly chilly in my lab.
I needed a book to escape into and this book was perfect for my purposes. It’s a retelling of both “Rapunzel” and “Snow White”, from Rapunzel’s point of view (first person). The blurb revolves around the prince and Rapunzel’s relationship; this is a false synopsis.
The prince is, at best, a secondary character and really pales in comparison to Rapunzel and even Snow White. His character is quickly sketched instead of complex and developed and he mostly serves as a plot device rather than a character in his own right. This works perfectly for the story, however. I love that the fairy tale gets re-imagined completely around Rapunzel, instead of true love. Rapunzel is, indeed, the active character in the story and it is her and Mother Gothel’s actions that drive and create the plot, rather than Rapunzel’s fate being determined by a witch and a prince.
Rapunzel herself is a fascinating character. I don’t know that I like her – she seems devoid of morals and certainly lacks ethics. Indeed, though she certainly can be empathetic, due to her particular brand of magic, she seems unable to see how her actions will harm others; she is only able to feel how her actions have harmed others. She is oddly self-aware, though not introspective; she understands she does not have a “great heart” and is not prone towards morality.
Ever since “Tangled” came out and did such a brilliant job of depicting an emotionally abusive relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, I’ve been fascinated by that relationship. There are so many directions it could be taken in. Turgeon takes an unexpected approach and because Rapunzel is not self-reflective, leaves much of the interpretation open to the reader. I wish there had been more exploration of that relationship.
Mother Gothel’s moral ambiguity through the story is also very nicely done. There’s such a disconnect between how she presents herself to Rapunzel and how the rest of the world views her that it really is impossible to see if she’s misunderstood because of a growing movement against magic or if she truly is evil. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
I would have liked a little more character development on Rapunzel’s part on the back third of the story and I do feel it ends right as she truly begins to grow up. In terms of plot, the ending makes sense; in terms of character, it almost leaves you hanging.
The plot itself is quick and nicely paced – perhaps a little too busy at the end, but at that point I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t notice until I’d finished. The writing is good – a tiny bit on the simpler side, which fits in well with the fairy tale aspect.
I wish Turgeon had spent more time on social critiques of the “fairest of them all” aspect. She does such an excellent job of setting up rich material for a stark, scathing look at the importance of female beauty in society – but she never really goes anywhere with it. Very sad. I also hate that both the blurb and the synopsis before the book club questions seem to think this is the story of a prince and a princess and the most important relationship is between Rapunzel and the prince. In reality, that is the least important relationship and it is annoying that someone(s) seemed to think that the male character of course had to be the most important secondary character in the story.
If you like reimagined fairy tales, feminist takes, or morally ambiguous main characters, you should definitely give this book a try. If you don’t like instances of rape (though not rape scenes), not-good main characters, or prefer beautiful, complex writing, than perhaps this, alas, is not the book for you.