Two books came in on hold for me the same day. One, more or less a traditional fairy tale redone as a novel. The other, women’s fiction featuring a depressed recent divorcee who lost custody of her children. Guess which one turned out to be dark? Not the one I’ve picked initially, for sure.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente One of my favorite books growing up was a collection of Russian fairy tales – translated from the French, it turns out, with beautiful illustrations by Zvorykin (here, Koschei the Deathless carrying off Maria Morevna, the beautiful Tsarevna). And any regular Library Mama reader will know how I love a good fairy tale turned novel. Well. “Koschei the Deathless”, more or less, set in early twentieth-century Russia, and told from the point of view of Marya Morevna, rather than the more usual Ivan. (For those not familiar with Russian fairy tales, Ivan usually plays the role of a Jack.) It’s a darkly beautiful tale, filled with sex, blood, suffering, and, oddly, birds. While Koschei the Deathless is usually a flat-out villain, everything in this book is painted in murky in-between shades. Koschei is still cruel, yes, still a seducer of beautiful young women. But he is also the embodiment of Life, engaged in the eternal struggle against his brother, Death. We will say that the beginning of the last century in Russia was a particularly rough time for Life. And there is metafiction, too, as Marya Morevna knows the old stories of Koschei. Evan as she loves him and struggles to complete the tasks set to be able to marry him, she knows that in her story, one day an Ivan will come to tempt her away from Koschei. It’s more about the difficulty of the choices that we make than the simple morality of the classic tales, and that makes it a fairy tale for those able to deal with the ambiguity of life.
Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .