Lost in the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold

Everything old is new again in this wide-ranging list of recent books (and one forthcoming) that play with tropes and imagery from fairy tales, often with a feminist bent. So by all means, Canadian authors: venture into the woods! There's still so much more there to be discovered.

*****

Hysteria, by Elisabeth da Mariaffi

Check out de Mariaffi's list, "8 Female Protagonists Who Don't Have Time For Your Sh*t"

About the book: Heike Lerner’s life looks perfect from the outside: she’s settled into an easy routine of caring for her young son, Daniel, and spends her days wandering the woods near their summer house, while her nights are filled with clinking glasses and charming conversation. It all helps to keep her mind at ease—or at least that’s what her husband, Eric, tells her. But lately, Heike’s noticed there are some things out of place: a mysterious cabin set back in the trees and a strange little girl who surfaces alone at the pond one day, then disappears—while at home Eric is becoming increasingly more controlling. Something sinister that Heike cannot quite put her finger on is lingering just beneath the surface of this idyllic life.

It’s possible Heike’s worries are all in her head, but when the unthinkable happens—Daniel vanishes while she and Eric are at a party one night—she can no longer deny that something is very wrong. 

Desperate to find her son, Heike will try anything, but Eric insists on a calm that feels so cold she wonders if she can trust him at all. 

Could Eric be involved in Daniel’s disappearance? Or has some darker thing taken him? The closer Heike gets to the truth, the faster it slips away. But she will not rest until she finds her son. 

*

The Doll's Alphabet, by Camilla Grudova

About the book: Short stories from an unholy marriage of Angela Carter, Sheila Heti, and H. P. Lovecraft. Dolls, sewing machines, tinned foods, mirrors, malfunctioning bodies - by constantly reinventing ways to engage with her obsessions and motifs, Camilla Grudova has built a universe that's highly imaginative, incredibly original, and absolutely discomfiting. The stories in The Doll's Alphabet are simultaneously childlike and naive, grotesque and very dark.

*

Book Cover The Burning Girl

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud

Check out our interview with Messud

About the book: Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality—crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.

Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

*

Book Cover When We Were Birds

When We Were Birds, by Maria Mutch

About the book: Wolves talk, notes magically appear on a woman’s skin, Red Riding Hood concocts a clever escape, a peregrine turns into a woman with strange compulsions, and a winged man believed to be a famous musician is discovered stranded on a beach.

These deliciously dark and evocative stories masterfully navigate the blurry line between perception and reality, revolving around metamorphosis and transformation, the dichotomy of absence and presence, and the place of women in the world—how they fit in or don't and how they disappear and reappear in the strangest of ways...

Punctuated with exquisite antique drawings and photographs by the author, When We Were Birds is an intoxicating feat of storytelling that will surprise and delight—leaving you craving more.

*

The Fairy Tale Museum, by Susannah M. Smith

About the book: The Fairy Tale Museum is an alchemical curiosity-cabinet-as-novel that showcases the original, spectacular, grotesque, endearing, and otherworldly. You'll meet bird-headed lovers, a cyborg cyclops, a fortune teller, revolutionary ventriloquists' dummies, a narcoleptic vampire, Eros and Thanatos, and a host of woodland creatures. A celebration of creativity and transformation, this book is a manifesto against putting ourselves into boxes that limit who we can be and what is possible.

The Faerie Devouring, by Catherine Lalonde (Coming in November)

About the book: A modern-day fable and mythic bildungsroman, The Faerie Devouring tells the story of a young girl raised by her grandmother (a stalwart matriarch and wicked fairy godmother) following her mother's death during childbirth. The absent mother haunts the story of this girl whose greatest misfortune is to have been born female.

In this critically-acclaimed coming-of-age story by Quebecois author Catherine Lalonde, and translated by Oana Avasilichioaei, questions of what it means to be born female and grow into a woman are explored. The story is rife with song, myth, phantasmagoria, spells, desire, ferocious poetic telling, wild imagination, and unruly language. Lalonde uses the form of a disenchanted and metaphorical fable to recount what it means to find a life force in one's lineage, even when one is born into "nothing."

June 18, 2018
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