Monday, 4 April 2011

Book #20 Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire

Mirror Mirror

Gregory Maguire is Wicked. Literally. He is the author of the novel Wicked, a re-imagining of the Wizard Of Oz story told from the perspective of Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West. The novel then spawned the award-winning Broadway and West End musical of the same name. I adore both.

Therefore, picking up Mirror Mirror in the bookshop was not a hard sell. As Maguire in general writes updated or unusual versions of old fairy stories, it only took the title for me to conclude that the Snow White story must be the basis of this novel "Mirror Mirror on the Wall, who's the fairest of them all?"
I didn't read the back cover.

This is where it gets a bit weird, I plan to go to Florence in May, and was discussing it and aspects of Italian history when The Borgias, a powerful Italian family from the 16th Century came up.
Mainly because Showtime have replaced their exceptionally silly but good value "history" series 'The Tudors' with a new series about this family. Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI  infamously had 7 illegitimate children, among them Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, and the surname became a byword for general debauchery and villany.

After this conversation, I pulled my copy of Mirror Mirror out of the bag, turned to the back and found that fictionalized versions of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia appear in this novel. Freaky or what? It is what Jung termed a 'synchronicity of chance'. I seemed oddly destined to read it.

At university I studied Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber short stories, which themselves are modern re-tellings of fairy stories, or children's tales. I hate to say it given that Carter is highly regarded and I'm sure many would disagree but I think Maguire does it better. He's more accessible, he retains more of a fable like quality to his prose, and he seems to genuinely love the topic he's chosen to make himself known for: classic stories retold in new ways. Carter on the other hand seemed to be engaged in a writers experiment, to me, anyway.

Although it's Snow White and would be a comfortable read for a mature young adult, it's not a kids story, absolutely not, it's an adult version of the tale. Although there are dwarves, one is called Heartless and another Gimpy, there are no Dopey and Doc here. Having The Borgia siblings as characters brings all the seediness of their world : incest, murder and greed. Lucrezia steps in to play the Wicked Stepmother role whilst Cesare provides the storyline which leads to Maguire's Snow White: Bianca De Nevada being left parentless.

There is a school of thought which suggests that some of The Borgias Lucrezia particularly have had their personalities maligned by history, and by the urban myths that sprang up around their family. I don't know enough about this point to argue it. What is quite clever is that a 16th century woman was required to be evil, and rather than go down the traditional road with the story of a wicked parent/guardian, so overdone in practically every genre from Dickens to Harry Potter; Maguire chose to use a woman from history with an already established reputation.

I didn't LOVE this book, the way I LOVE Wicked, but it's really enjoyable to read and cleverly written. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes old stories told in new ways, anyone who liked Wicked either the novel or musical or anyone who just fancies something a bit different for a change.


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