October 24, 2002

Twice I’ve started reading Perdido Street Station; twice I’ve found that I don’t really feel like it and stopped. The first time, a few months ago, I got a chapter or two into it, and the other day when I picked it up again I read about three pages. I will give it another, real try, but I doubt it will happen any time soon.

Instead I’ve just read Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, an unusual Holocaust tale woven together with a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s a young adult novel, with a rather uncomplicated, straightforward plot (and a cameo appearance by the city of Torun) ; as the subject matter hints, though, it is by no means an uncomplicated book, to be put down unconcernedly after it’s finished. I won’t try to define what makes it unusual; I’ll need to re-read it first, I think. The central premise of the plot is a search, a quest of sorts, for the history of an old lady who dies in the midst of her loving family, none of whom knows her real name or where she came from originally. One of the lady’s grand-daughters—the youngest of three sisters, yes, for after all this is in a way a fairy tale also—undertakes the search, and as I mentioned it is not very complicated, another author could have made it much more difficult, but I get the feeling that for Yolen the plot isn’t the all-important thing. What’s more important are the glimpses of history, the insights into what makes a person a hero, a villain or an on-looker in a desperate situation, and the interlacing of the old and the new tales. Which is beautifully done.

Fairy tales always have a happy ending. Provided you are the Queen, and not Rumpelstiltskin.

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