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What to Read: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

The thing is to take your own life in your hands.
—“The Tale of the Bird”

Kissing the WitchThe first book by Emma Donoghue I ever read was Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins. It was the title that caught my eye, with its promise of deviant magic. Donoghue’s stories take place between two traditions: that of fairy tales, and that of the women who subvert them. Angela Carter comes instantly to mind. In her saucy revisions, the desires which lead little girls to their punishment are permissible; beauty becomes the beast. In Donoghue’s telling, Cinderella falls in love with her fairy godmother.

Donoghue is not just interested in sex, though; as is the case with all her fiction, social status is interrogated, too. Traditional fairy tales reinforce class distinctions; Donoghue’s stories dismantle them. In “The Tale of the Handkerchief,” a princess prefers life as a goose girl, and her maid learns the joy and anxiety of being a queen.

Like Carter, and A.S. Byatt, and Kelly Link, Donoghue uses very old tropes and figures to tell very contemporary stories. Like them, she reenchants the world, and like them uses fairy tales to question the truths of fairy tales. Unlike them, though, but like Francesca Lia Block, she writes for children. Her stories usher the young reader from familiar magic to the magic of the possible.

MORE EMMA DONOGHUE
Interview, Part One
Interview, Part Two
Archival Interview
Review of Passions Between Women

September 16, 2004 | Permalink

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