A long time ago I accidentally stumbled upon Hannah Fury, an eerie songstress. It Was Her House that Killed Nessarose. And so I didn’t care much for London apart from the Wicked posters in front of the Apollo Victoria Theatre. My Christmas wishlist had Gregory Maguire’s whole bibliography on it. But I only picked up the Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister a few days ago.
Cinderella is definitely one of the most famous fairytales ever; you might even be familiar with the Czechoslovak/East German movie, which is, together with Mrazik, a fixed star of Christmas Eve’s TV screens. Some versions of Cinderella are sweet and sugar-coated, some are quite brutal and dark. But it stays just a fairytale with flat, two-dimensional characters nonetheless. It would be very easy to strip Cinderella off all the magic - pumpkins and glass slippers - and make her into a real story. But the Confessions manage to keep all the magic, and even add more of it in the form of imagination and feverish dreams, while setting Cinderella in a very realistic 17th century Holland. It certainly helps to be at least vaguely familiar with the famous painters of Netherlands as the visual arts play a major role in the story, both directly and indirectly.
The ugly stepsister tells a story of struggle for life and love, scheming, ugliness, plainness, crookedness and beauty, the forms, reasons and consequences of these. It’s dark and secretive. It’s full of imps and goblins gnawing at people’s hearts. It made me think of The Girl with a Pearl Earring. And it’s written in beautiful English.
You can pick the book up at NeoLuxor in Prague for a little over 300 CZK, turn to eBay or get it abroad in any more or less English-speaking country.