Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – Gregory Maguire

Blurb from Amazon: We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave amongst the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty … and what curses accompanied Cinderella’s looks?

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who is swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris’s path becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister. While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household – and the treacherous truth of her former life.

Review: I was puzzled by the parallel between this novel and the tale of Cinderella at first. Not that it’s not apparent –there are lots of pointers right from the start – but because it didn’t really seem necessary… What I was expecting was a kind of ‘pastiche’ of the centuries’ old tale, a novel holding up mainly because of that parallel. But that’s not what I got. I got much better.

With it’s historical setting, intriguing story-line and subtle characters Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a fascinating read. We kind of know how it’s going to end of course, but that’s not what’s most important… what’s important isn’t who’s going to end with whom, but how they will get there. And who everyone really is. Because the fairly stereotyped characters we are introduced to at first might very quickly change faces.

Nothing is at it seems, not least because none of them really want to face the truths. And that’s where Cinderella comes in really: one more way to dress up the stark truth a little, make it glimmer, transform it in an exciting adventure. Cinderella isn’t the foundation of the novel, it’s the narrator’s way of relating to her own story, a much darker, real one.

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