A Wild Swan: and other tales

A Wild Swan: and other tales by Michael Cunningham

RATING: ★★★★★ (5/5)

From the author of The Hours comes a beautiful, eerie, and haunting collection of fairy-tale retellings. I first saw the movie adaptation of The Hours when I was in high school and it was soon one of my favorite films. I bought the soundtrack composed by Phillip Glass; I eagerly read Mrs. Dalloway and wrote a paper on it for English class, beginning a still-running love for Virginia Woolf. So why have I not actually read the book that accompanied my teenage angst so well? I have no idea. Maybe I was having a reversal of fear– worrying the book would somehow ruin the film if it turned out to be even better, even if it didn’t have Phillip Glass’s monotonous strings and Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose (this was actually one of the few detractors in the film). Maybe I had some small grudge or bias against anyone who tries to weave classic literature into new works (ahem, see the myriad spins on Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice).

After reading this story collection, however, I think I’m going to have to buckle down and do it– check out a copy of The Hours  from the library (preferably one without Nicole Kidman’s fake nose plastered all over it). In this new work Cunningham delves into the themes traditionally explored in fairytales–lust, greed, love, mortality–with strikingly modern analysis and an almost unnervingly personal touch. All the humanity and motivation that is missing in the spareness of the original tales is explored in these short stories. I was especially, and continually, impressed by his accurate and sensitive treatment of female characters’ psychology, admittedly rare for a male author. He definitely ‘gets it’. The narrators are strong and flawed; I especially love his use of second-person narrative, stories being directed at an ambiguous ‘you’. His reinterpretations trudge through the inherent darkness of the original tales and offer truly unique retellings of stories retold millions of times already. His language is artful, his characterizations memorable.

A must read for anyone interested in fairy tales or literature with complex female characters, not to mention the beautiful addition of Beardsley-esque illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Yuko Shimizu.

artwork by Yuko Shimizu


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