I knew when I picked up this book that it would be out of my literary “comfort zone” Fantasy fiction and I are just getting to know one another – and this book seemed a bit on the fringe for me. However, Cinderella is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales and since I teach a unit on fractured fairy tales in my 7th grade English class, I thought I would give it a go.
My prediction was that this book would be purely fantasy: Lil has been banished from the fairy world due to her mistake, but is given the opportunity to redeem herself. I expected that Lil would have succeeded in this mission, been reinstated in said fairy world, and “lived happily ever after” — just as it should be in any fairy tale ending. I mentally prepared for this kind of story (yes – I must mentally prepare to read fantasy since it is so far outside the realm of reality). For the most part I enjoyed the story as I read it: I liked the idea that fairies are not perfect, but are given the opportunity to redeem themselves. When it came to the final scenes, however, I was shocked and perplexed at the nebulous ending and I think I even felt a bit duped at this unconventional ending for what I expected to be a very conventional book.
Now, first of all, I must accept some of this responsibility. I have been in a “fantasy” reading mode lately – and this is NOT my typical genre (I think it must be some kind of exercise that I have given myself: I will read fantasy and I will learn to like it). When I found this new novel that was derived from a great great fairy tale, was fractured from the point of view of the elderly godmother (I am quickly entering that demographic bracket), and took place in a small independent bookstore in New York City, I thought I had found the perfect escape novel for me. I immediately reserved the book at my local library – waiting only 1 week for it to come in – and began reading. I did not read any other summaries of the book, nor any other book reviews. I think if I had done my homework prior to opening its pages, I would have had different expectations and therefore my reaction would have been more favorable.
The story is told in alternating views: some from the past as Lil is reliving her costly mistake, and then from the present as she is living with its consequences. It took me a while to adjust to this pattern. Sometimes I would have to re-read sections to realize which “era” was being referred to. It is not that this is a bad way to tell the story, it is just that, once again, it did not meet my expectations. I assume that fairy tales are full of description – and can be quite complex – but are typically straight forward and easy to understand. I would sometimes wonder “what is wrong with me” that I could not understand what was going on.
The story is also told in first person point of view. While I know this perspective demands that the reader decide on the reliability of the narrator, I think I relied too much on my expectations of the genre and not enough on my own intuition. Lil can either be the famed godmother of the fairy world OR Lil can be a confused old woman in modern day NYC who is on the brink of senility. I never considered the last option as a possibility until the end of the story.
Now that I have voiced my criticism of the book, I will say that I did enjoy parts of it. I thought Lil’s character was very well developed and the detail in which the author wrote to describe Lil’s undressing at the end of each day – including the removal of the bands that keep her wings “invisible” beneath her clothing – was amazingly credible. The fairy godmother in Cinderella is kind, sweet, gentle and helpful. Lil has not lost those admiring qualities here on earth. She has worked for George, the owner of a small independent bookstore, for years and is not only helpful to the customers who frequent the shop, but she is also a “godsend” to George. Her new mission, to bring Veronica and George together in order for them to find true love, is also a credible storyline. Neither Veronica nor George have had perfect relationships in the past, and the reader is not led to believe that this relationship will be “happily ever after” – but I was certain that Lil’s interference would be successful and the couple would have a nice future together. I actually took comfort in this more true-to-life ending for the couple.
I do not want to spoil the ending of the story. I will say that once Lil completes her mission she fully expects to be joined again with her fairy sisters and return to her original home. The reader is left wondering whether that happy ending occurs, or whether this story is not a fairy tale, but rather a contemporary, rather dark, psychological novel that depicts a senile old lady who only thinks she is the fairy godmother.
For my own personal taste, I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars.