Emma Donoghue,
Kissing the Witch
(HarperCollins, 1997)

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue retells a fine chain of fairy tales, linking each of the thirteen tales to the next through its characters. Each story features a central and definite image, such as "the shoe," "the bird," "the rose" or "the apple" -- and in each, the central character asks a secondary female character for her story. The women never identify themselves, but most readers should be able to identify them.

Cinderella is her own victim in "The Story of the Shoe." In the wake of her mother's death, she drives herself compulsively, scrubbing and sweeping and weeping among the ashes. Her fairy godmother is no magical creature but rather a friend from her mother's past who indulges Cinderella's desire to go to the ball. The prince is enchanted with her but inspires no passion, and she follows her heart instead. The "fairy godmother" tells her story next, revealing herself as Thumbelina.

Other fairy tale heroines who retell their stories include Gretel, the miller's daughter from "Rumplestiltskin," Beauty, Rapunzel and Snow White. In a curious departure from the "heroine" theme, one of the narrators is the usurping maid of "The Goose Girl." Her tale awakens surprising sympathy and awareness in the reader.

The stories are carefully constructed and flow together smoothly. Donoghue is a poet with a masterful sense of language, and she employs spare, powerful and haunting images. There are erotic overtones in some of the stories, subtly woven into the narrative. Once begun, the book compels you to continue to the end, where you learn about what can result from kissing the witch.

Reading this book is like eating a small box of very fine chocolate: it leaves you at once satisfied and wanting more. The advantage is that you can go back and read the book again and again -- and you will.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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