Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch

This review at Iris on Books caught my eye a few months ago and the book was added to my wish list straight away.

I read Kissing the Witch in two sittings because, although it’s a collection of short stories, I found it hard to put down. Reading this chain of stories is like opening a Russian doll. The further in you get, the more surprises you find. Each tale is connected to the one before, with the secondary character from the first telling her own story, and then passing on the pen to the next woman. The readers are kept interested because they want to learn more about the character and understand why they have become a witch, a fairy Godmother or how they came to live a secluded life in a cave.

The thing that many readers have found particularly special about Kissing the Witch, is that everything is told from the female perspective. The tales are wonderfully empowering to women. All of the female characters have their own mind and make their own choices – often helped along by other women. Their lives don’t end with living happily ever after, married to prince charming. I found this feminist take on the tales interesting and liked the message of some of the stories. However, more important to me was the fact that we were given the chance to see the backgrounds of the witches and nasty stepmothers, who weren’t necessarily always bad.

Possibly my favourite stories were The Tale of the Apple and The Tale of the Handkerchief. The first is a re-telling of Snow White and concentrates more on the relationship between her and her stepmother. In the second story, a re-imagined version of the Brothers Grimm’s Goose Girl, we go back to when the stepmother was a child. These two stories flow smoothly together, but not all of them do. We don’t find out in all the tales how certain characters got to be who they are. Possibly this has been done on purpose, as in the book one character says, “And what happened next, you ask? Never you mind. There are some tales not for telling…” I still can’t shake the feeling of being slightly unsatisfied though.

The idea of women being in control of their own lives is important to me, but I have to say that I found this book a bit one-sided and at times lacking in subtly. I missed having male characters – because not all of them have to be frisky teenagers, bad husbands and mad fathers. Could we not have seen a little more of the woodsmen or read the back-story of the father that promised away his daughter? Do they not deserve a chance to tell their stories?

In whatever form you already know the stories, this book will show you a different side to them, with some refreshing new ideas. It is unusual but very readable, magical but not silly. In this alternative world of fairy tales, women are not the weak and helpless beings that we are used to. Every evil stepmother or scary witch has their own story. Characters are not necessarily as they first seem and we get to explore this further, in the next story. Cinderella’s fairy Godmother was not always a fairy Godmother and underneath the mask of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, there might be something very different to what you imagine.

If you would like to buy this magical alternative to your favourite fairy tales, you can click on the picture below.

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7 thoughts on “Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

    • I was never a big fan of the fairy-tales when I was younger (I was a bit of a tomboy), although I did love Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. But recently I’ve been quite interested in them! Especially more adult takes on them. The Snow Child is a nice example. It takes a simple fairy-tale and turns it into something realistic and magical. It was so easy to get lost in a magical world when I was younger, but it takes an extra special book to make me believe in the magic now!

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      • I have the Snow Child on my shelf, and I want to read it too. I don’t think I’ll get to it until the end of the year (when it’s winter again). I’ve heard so many good things about it. Now that you have described it as a fairy tale, I’m all the more excited to read it.

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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I read this in my teens back when I was chewing through books like they were oxygen and I wanted to read it again but couldn’t remember anything but the artwork. Now I know what it’s called and who the author is I can re-read it FINALLY. 🙂

    *a very delighted hug*

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    • That’s great! I would be interested to see what you think after a re-read!
      It can be so frustrating ‘losing’ a book in your memory. I have one that I’m always trying to find. I read it when I was quite young, and all I remember is that there was a magic place, a magic creature, a pond and a girl as the protagonist. I had to give it back to the library and have never seen it again since…
      I hope you enjoy your re-read! Let me know what you think!

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