Book Review – Briar Rose

Title: Briar Rose
Author: Robert Coover
Publisher: Grove Press
Edition: Paperback
Year: 1996

Just in case anyone was wondering, I read books for class, too. This is the first novel I’ve read this semester that wasn’t written by someone named Austen (have no fear, Janeites, I will write a big post on Jane Austen at the end of the semester. I’m sure it’ll be epic). Anyway, Briar Rose.

What an odd, perverse little book.

And that is all the review I gave it on GoodReads. I couldn’t manage to give it anything more than that. For those of you who are not familiar with it (I was only vaguely aware of it before I was assigned it in class), it’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, one that is very sexually charged and never quite meets its resolution. Apparently when my professor read this with an undergrad class, they tried to boycott the book. Of course, we are a graduate level class, so we can talk about this with professionalism and respect…ha! You haven’t met my class…

The book is only 86 pages; if you’re really curious, you can read it for yourself in a couple of hours. This is not a fairy tale for children, however, and I don’t think I’d recommend it to teens either.

The story is told from numerous points of view. You have Rose, asleep, disembodied and able to move about the castle, though not freely. The evil fairy—who thinks she’s a good fairy—does her best to haunt Rose with terrible Once Upon a Times and no Happily Ever Afters. The fairy occasionally monologues to herself about what she’s doing to Rose and feels completely justified in her actions. Finally we get to the thoughts of the numerous princes who come to try and awaken the Sleeping Beauty. Some reach her chambers, some kiss her, some do more than kiss her (I’ll leave that up to your imaginations…), some turn back in the briar patch, some get lost in the briar patch;it’s hard to tell if any of the princes’ voices are in fact that same prince we’ve heard before or if every one is a different prince.

The book is written in a stream of consciousness, making you feel like everyone is stuck in a dream. Rose’s pieces are the worst, naturally, but she recognizes that she is still asleep, and realizes that these images are not real, that many of them she’s dreamed before. The princes seemed more confused, having revelations from unknown places, or failing to understand their internal logic. The fairy has the most coherent thoughts of anyone, but even she tends to ramble in run-on sentence structures.

I much preferred the end of this story to the beginning. The beginning focuses on the sexual imagery and acts, making me (and I’m sure most readers) uncomfortable. The end, however, focuses on the revelations of both Rose and her approaching princes. When, at last, the fairy tells Rose one final story, she does not include the ogres or dragons or cannibalistic angry princesses. She tells a simple Happily Ever After, to which Rose yells at her. She had thought all the other stories were horrible, but this last one with its happy ending, was now also terrible. Rose had come to realize, in her dreaming state, that Happily Ever After was a false dream.

This story is fairly familiar, but if you’re hoping for a wrap-up with a nice little bow, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It was an interesting read, a disturbing read, and not one that I can say I’d ever recommend.

Grade: C

Blog Comments

THANK you. I was forced to read this book too and quite frankly it failed utterly to live up to the importance the prof. credited it with.

-Cadence

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