Classic fairytales retold with a current (and often gruesome) twist.With little over 100 pages, Michael Cunningham’s short story collection packs a punch. Reinventing fairy tales isn’t anything new, which is why it’s slightly hard to get into this book.
For me there were hits (Rapunzel and her blind prince who holds her cut hair without remembering it was chopped off to me was rather disturbing and sad) and misses (Rumpelstiltskin’s love story started off in a promising way but was rather lacklustre in the end).
The title story had the prince with the swan wing completely isolated, depressed while his fully recovered ex-swan brothers lived happily ever after with their stepmother (who had turned them into swans in the first place). Did I like it? Not really.
This book was assigned for my book club – it’s another one of those reads that I wouldn’t have chosen myself but that I’m glad to have encountered.
My perception of the book changed as those who read it brought their thoughts to the table.
The book deals with each fairy-tale as a lesson in disenchantment – whether it’s Snow White’s prince who wants to recapture their first moment together (albeit in a very creepy way), Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) who realises that her true love might have been better off a gentle monster than a monstrous human, or the cougar old lady from Hansel and Gretel who only wants to show people affection.
Another common theme is a warning: to be careful what you wish for. Because if a monkey fist grants you three wishes, you’re better off throwing it in the garbage can.
Although the hard copy is quite pricey (UK £14,99), the illustrations in the piece are quite beautiful. It’s also a reminder that this may be for adults, but it’s still a story book.
Behind all of the glossy, Disney stories there are true villains – whether it’s Jack lurking in the shadow of a beanstalk or the vanity of a gold-hungry prince.
Thanks go to Emily Roman for the short story recommendation!
At the book club session, I gave ‘A Wild Swan and Other Tales’ a 2.5/5.