Book 13: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

January 29, 2009 at 2:26 am (Review) (, , , , )

This is a re-telling of the Cinderella story buy the same writer that brought us Wicked. I didn’t read Wicked but was a reluctant attendee at the musical in London and the best I can say is that it was less hideous than most musicals I have attended. I was expecting from seeing the musical that this would be fairly heavy handed when hammering home its thematic point. Which didn’t happen quite as I expected.

The wicked stepmother remains the unredeemed villain of the piece and there is only really room for the redemption of one ugly stepsister. One stepsister is mentally disturbed and is hulking and ox like physically. I didn’t really know what to make of the characterisation of this sister, I don’t know if he is being deliberately vague about the nature of her disorder (if indeed she has a disorder as such or is just traumatised by various events in their lives), or if the writer himself didn’t know.

The second sister is the one to be redeemed and in some respects she is. However  Maguire is never absolute in how he builds his characters. When it comes to Cinderella we have more of the same, one moment she a vacant, spoiled brat, the next selfless redeemer of her family. Maguire I imagine sees himself as a writer of moral ambiguities, a chronicler of flawed human characters unfortunately I don’t think he’s writer enough to do this effectively. 

While the characterisation is undoubtedly flawed its not a bad read. There is a interesting subplot with a local painter who is a splendidly whole character because for once Maguire is not trying for the grey. There are also a number of interesting period details regarding the dutch tulip crash and artistic patronage at the time that are both interesting and entertaining to read. 

If you liked Wicked you will probably like this, if you found Wicked (I know I am making assumptions based on the musical and reading this) heavy-handed don’t bother. It wasn’t great and I respect what was being attempted it just didn’t quite get there for me.

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