I took a trip to the library yesterday, where I had to enforce the rule my mom created when I was little- You can only check out as many books as you can carry. As I was going to be taking the bus home, I could only take as many as would fit in my backpack, which turned out to be 9. I went with a list, and my library did not fail me.
I read 2 and a half of those books yesterday, and they formed that weird connectivity that occurs when you read books in quick succession. I didn’t recognize the thread until I started the third book, when it all became clear. All three turned on the pivot of fairy tales, and the stories and fantasies we tell ourselves.
The first was Bonjour Tristesse by Franciose Sagan, one of my new favorite novels, which is really the closest I’ve ever read to a modern fairy tale. (Although I don’t know that that was the intention.) It centers on Cecile, a 17 year old who has spent the majority of her life in a convent, and has only recently come to live with her bohemian father, Raymond. (Her mother died years before.) In their two years together, she’s come to accept and embrace his lifestyle, and the parade of women who come in and out of their lives. The story in the novel takes place on their summer vacation at the beach. Raymond has brought his current girlfriend along, and they all get along just fine until Anne, one of Cecile’s mother’s friends, appears, also having been invited by Raymond. Anne is well loved by Cecile and Raymond, but the antithesis of their carefree, playful lifestyle. When Anne and Raymond announce that they will marry, Cecile sees this as a threat to everything she holds dear, and decides she must stop their union.
What results is a gorgeous coming of age story, a girl on the cusp of adulthood- physically, mentally and emotionally- stumbling furiously into responsibility and accountabililty. It has the elements of a fairy tale, motherless child, a step-mother threatening to take the father’s affection, woods that hold sexual experimentation and experience, even the ending is fitting. The writing is sparse and lyrical, and completely engrossing. This was Francoise Sagan’s first book, she wrote it when she was 18, and I’m bitterly jealous of her talent.
After Bonjour Tristesse I moved on to Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. I loved the film version of Big Fish, and was anxious to read the novel, as I was sure it would expand on the ideas of the film. It didn’t. The book and the film are two almost completely seperate entities. In the movie, father and son are distanced by the father’s seeming inability to ever speak the truth; instead he tells outrageous tall tales about his life which really contain his truth, the emotions he can’t express. The novel is made up of similar vignettes, but these are presented as the stories that an adoring, if neglected, son has created about his father in an attempt to know him. Totally different effect. One speaks to the role of fiction in things we can not say, the other to the things we do not know. (I wish that I had read the book first, so that I could have read it without the tinge of the movie. I think it would have been a different experience.) It connects to Bonjour in the vision that the main characters have created of their fathers, the fairy tale idolization they’ve perpetrated.
The book I’m halfway through, and which, predictably, started my thinking about this fairy tale connection, is Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Women Writers Explore their Favorite Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer. In it, writers who have used fairy tale motifs in their writing analyze their favorite fairy tales- how they influenced them as children, how they impacted their writing, etc. The essays are very good, and I’m enjoying being enlightened by them. Interesting, although perhaps not suprisingly, the only essay I couldn’t make myself finish was by the only author included that I don’t like. Apparently her non-fiction is as unreadable to me as her fiction. I won’t say who it is though, that wouldn’t be nice.
Current total: 58
Just Finished: Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
Currently Reading: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall edited by Kate Bernheimer