Book Review – Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins

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Title: Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Paperback
Year: 1999

Kissing the Witch was, for a number of reasons, different from my usual read. It was again a book I read for class, and I found it to be quite the page-turner, something I am not used to when it comes to class reads. I read it in about 3 1/2 hours, a welcome break. The font was easy to read, and I think more books should consider the wide margined page layout.

This book’s label is what made it different for me: queer and/or lesbian fiction. I read some reviews on GoodReads, and people who read the genre on a regular basis found this to be too tame to really qualify. I would agree with them, that this book is tame, and is probably more about the empowerment of women than any gender statement. Men take the back-burner in every one of these stories; some of them are stupid, most just insignificant.

The form of this book is fabulous. Each chapter is a fairy tale retold (though I admit, there were three stories I did not recognize) and each story links to the story before and after it. The heroine of the current story asks her mentor what her story is, and then the mentor tells her story as the heroine. It was a fun format, and made it very difficult to put down between chapters. The language is simple, easy to follow, and the descriptions are wonderfully vivid. Donoghue has a wonderful wit about her writing. I knew this book would amuse me when on the first page our heroine says: “I heard a knocking in my skull, and kept running to the door, but there was never anyone there.” Her prose pulls you to keep reading, needing to discover what she’s done to change the next fairy tale.

And yet, the book did not satisfy me. This is, partially, because I’m a reader who thrives on resolution. Without some sort of resolve (happily ever after or not) I find myself needing to turn another page. This book ends because our final heroine had no mentor, had no one to ask story of (or rather, she refused to continue her story). Many of my reading friends like these endings, but they leave me with dissatisfaction. I also found no meaning within the stories, for myself. I’m sure these stories ring very true for some people. For me, in my position in life, they were unrelatable.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to someone interested in fairy tale adaptations, or to someone interested in a—for lack of a better term—”girl power” read.

Grade: B-

Blog Comments

I’m very disappointed that I didn’t take Justine’s fairy tales class. I found that in a lot of classes, I read books that surprised me. Of course there were always classes with books I had no desire to finish, but then again it took me a while to learn that I didn’t have to finish every book I started, be it for school or no.

This book sounds very interesting though, probably because I enjoy stories that are separate but woven together somehow. I don’t know how I feel about “girl power” books as I rarely enjoy things that bash either of the sexes in anyway, though I’m not sure that’s what you meant with this book.

I do wonder though, why categorize it as goodreads did?

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