Feb 24, 2008

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

by Gregory Maguire

This book takes the story of Cinderella and sets it in Holland, told by one of the stepsisters. There are no mice or pumpkins, and "Cinderella" is a beautiful, intractable girl named Clara. It begins when Iris (homely but intelligent) and her sister Ruth (mentally handicapped) accompany their widowed mother to Holland as bereft strangers. They find a painter who agrees to take them in as servants. When a wealthy tulip investor commissions the artist to paint his daughter Clara, Iris' mother jumps at the chance to ingratiate herself into that household of higher social status. Iris finds herself burdened with both watching after her dull sister Ruth and being forced companion to the disagreeable Clara, her new stepsister. What she is really interested in is learning about painting, which she does from the painter's apprentice, the charming and impish Caspar.

This story was delightful. It introduced me to the tulip craze of Holland in the 1630's, which I knew little about. In some ways it's almost more historical fiction than fantasy. The characters are so realistic, with their various virtues and flaws. Even though most of the people are predominantly good or evil, kind or cruel, intelligent or dumb, nothing is that black and white. Iris' mother has got to be the most complex person of all. Everyone is trying to achieve something: Clara to be seen as something other than a beautiful face, Iris seeks self-confidence, her mother wants money's security, nobody seems to think about what Ruth wants...

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a wonderful story full of personality contrasts, human folly, intrigue and admirable compassion. The end has satisfying curious twists. And, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about painting.

Rating: 4/5                       372 pages, 1999

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8 comments:

trish said...

I enjoyed Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister as well. Have you read any other books by Gregory Maguire?

Nymeth said...

I have been meaning to read more Gregory Maguire for some time now, and I love fairy tale retellings, so this one definitely is for me. Thanks for the great review!

Jeane said...

Trish- Yes; I reviewed Wicked here back in October, and I've read Mirror, Mirror which I didn't like as much. I tried Son of a Witch too, but couldn't get into it at all.

Nymeth- You're welcome! What other Maguire have you read?

Literary Feline said...

I've had my eye on this one for awhile now. I read Wicked by the same author and really liked it. Thanks for the great review!

BookGal said...

I enjoyed Wicked so I need to give this one a try.

Nymeth said...

Jeane, the other Maguire I read was Wicked, and like literary feline and bookgal I enjoyed it a lot.

Trish said...

Ha ha, all of a sudden I am seeing all of these other "Trishs" pop up...! Its strange because I was always the only one growing up. Oh well! :)

Sounds like a wonderful read. I have Wicked on my shelf and I'm always tempted to pick up more of his books when I see them. I'm a big fan of fairytales re-told.

Jeane said...

It's great to know so many nice people named Trish!