We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave amongst the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty ...and what curses accompanied Cinderella's looks? Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century ...
We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave amongst the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty ...and what curses accompanied Cinderella's looks? Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who is swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris's path becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister. While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household - and the treacherous truth of her former life. Far more than a mere fairy tale, this is a novel of beauty and betrayal, reminding us that deception can be unearthed - and love unveiled - in the most unexpected of places.
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My daughter had been suggesting I read this book for years. I think I avoided it because somewhere deep down I've always sympathized with the ugly stepsisters. I couldn't help but wonder what their lives would have been like with a different mother. The cover of this book gave me the impression that the stepsisters' story would be ugly indeed. And in some ways it is. The beginning of this book is harsh and dark, something out of a grim Dickens novel. In fact, nothing in this story rings of Fairy Tales. No Fairy Godmothers, magic pumpkins, and certainly no birds singing happy songs to anyone.(As in the movie.) The mother is a miserable woman who has no problem making her daughter's lives hell. The other characters are drawn in such a way that even though their lives were over-the-top awful, they seem real, and I genuinely cared about them. I especially liked the two painters, their predicaments and their problems.
One of the aspects I enjoyed was the fact that you know you have an unreliable narrator. Iris is certainly seeing, and telling, events through her own slanted, self-centered viewpoint. Trying to search out the truths in the story made it even more fascinating. I recommend this book, but it's not for children or those who can't read harsh, sometimes grim, material. For all that, it was still a good read, and I'll be thinking about the characters for some time.
Jul 23, 2008
The curse of beauty
I was surprised by how much I began to like this book the further I read into it. At the outset I was a little wary of the dry tone, thinking that Maguire was deliberately making his tale mundane, but soon the story began to center around the family relationships and the writing style warmed up. In the same philosophical manner he displayed in "Wicked," Maguire here dissects the nature of beauty, and of society's perception of and reaction to all things beautiful. What I appreciated most of all was how all of his characters behaved according to their own inner code. The "wicked" stepmother was completely believable and not even necessarily inherently wicked. Everything she did was driven by a survival instinct and her personality was what clashed with that of the Ashgirl so fiercely. Lastly, there is a small twist near the end that is incredibly well executed. It's a simple thing but it was a wonderful touch that put the entire book into startlingly clear perspective.
Apr 3, 2007
More than meets the eye...
This book is so much more than a simple re-imagining of the Cinderella story from the perspective of one of her Ugly Stepsisters. It has a unique charm all it's own.
The characters are all vibrant and alive. Nothing seems stereotypical or boring. It is a lush fairy tale grounded in the reality of the Holland in the 17th century.
The book also explores the nature of beauty. What makes a person beautiful? Is it their body, their face, or their soul? Is beauty something to be cherished, or something to be feared?
The style is accessible to modern readers, but still evokes the style and mores of 17th Century Holland. The book is captivating, rich, and, at times, downright creepy.
If you enjoy a good fairy tale, this book is for you. This book has a lot to offer for both young and mature readers. I'd also recommend it to anyone who liked GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING.
Publishers Weekly, 1999-08-16 The inspired concept of Maguire's praised debut, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was not a fluke. Here he presents an equally beguiling reconstruction of the Cinderella story, set in the 17th century, in which the protagonist is not the beautiful princess-to-be but her plain stepsister. Iris Fisher is an intelligent young woman struggling with poverty and plain looks. She, her mother, Margarethe, and her retarded sister, Ruth, flee their English country village in the wake of her father's violent death, hoping to find welcome in Margarethe's native Holland. But the practical Dutch are fighting the plague and have no sympathy for the needy family. Finally, a portrait painter agrees to hire them as servants, specifying that Iris will be his model. Iris is heartbroken the first time she sees her likeness on canvas, but she begins to understand the function of art. She gains a wider vision of the world when a wealthy merchant named van den Meer becomes the artist's patron, and employs the Fishers to deal with his demanding wife and beautiful but difficult daughter, Clara. Margarethe eventually marries van den Meer, making Clara Iris's stepsister. As her family's hardships ease, Iris begins to long for things inappropriate for a homely girl of her station, like love and beautiful objects. She finds solace and identity as she begins to study painting. Maguire's sophisticated storytelling refreshingly reimagines age-old themes and folklore-familiar characters. Shrewd, pushy, desperate Margarethe is one of his best creations, while his prose is an inventive blend of historically accurate but zesty dialogue and lyrical passages about saving power of art. The narrative is both "magical," as in fairy tales, and anchored in the reality of the 17th century, an astute balance of the ideal and sordid sides of human nature in a vision that fantasy lovers will find hard to resist. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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