Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mirror Mirror, by Gregory Maguire

Today I'm looking at another book by Gregory Maguire, who seems to have a definite niche of twice-told tales and doing different interpretations of stories we've all heard before. As I rather liked Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister I decided that listening to Mirror Mirror, Maguire's reinterpretation of the story of Snow White, would be an interesting book to listen to. Unfortunately what struck me about this book most of all was that it felt unfinished or underdeveloped, especially compared to his other books. A lot of time passes in the book without terribly much happening at all, it raises a lot of questions about the book's universe that aren't really answered, and ends rather abruptly. I honestly was left disappointed and I can see why this is one of the less popular of his books.

The story is set in sixteenth-century Italy with Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia playing major roles in the story. Snow White in this case is Bianca de Nevada whose father, Vincente, is sent on a quest to find a limb from the tree in the Garden of Eden to help save Cesare from syphilis. Bianca spends a few years without her father until Lucrezia decides she wants Bianca dead, apparently out of insane jealousy more than anything else despite Bianca being barely eleven, and Bianca is taken into the forest where she stumbles into the dwarves' cave and sleeps for a number of years before waking up. Lucrezia finds out Bianca is still alive and tries to kill her multiple times before succeeding in putting her in a deep sleep that Bianca remains in for another number of years. Meanwhile her father, upon finding the monastery where the limb from the tree in the Garden of Eden, gets caught by the monks there and thrown into a dungeon, where he remains for several years before being rescued by a dwarf who followed him to retrieve their mirror.

Do you see what I mean about this being confusing and yet underdeveloped? Two of the main characters spend a majority of time the book is set effectively out of action. Bianca is asleep and Vincente is locked up in a dungeon, spending time remembering things rather than doing things. Because, well, locked up in a dungeon. This is to say nothing of Lucrezia, Cesare, and the dwarves who also spend a lot of time remembering things. Or everyone just thinks about things. I got the feeling while listening to this book that it was trying really hard to be deep and insightful but it just honestly came across as pretentious more than anything else. Or like it was trying really hard for a literary award of some sort.

And Maguire seems to spend a lot of effort in creating an interesting world and multiple plot-lines which could be woven together to an interesting finale. There's the mirror created by the dwarves in a quest to be more human, which I feel like we never really get to explore more. They mention a desire to be more human before meeting Bianca, but it's also implied that their shift to a more human existence is also caused by the arrival and presence of Bianca. There also seems to be a theme of the magic slowly going away from the world, especially with a scene between the huntsman and a unicorn, at least what I suppose is supposed to be an actual unicorn because it's described as such in the book. To say nothing of the existence of apples apparently from the actual Garden of Eden. It feels like there were a lot of different avenues that Maguire was interested in exploring and developing, and for whatever reason he kept the book short and just didn't explore them fully.

Overall I think Mirror Mirror almost feels like a rough draft or outline for a book that Maguire meant to flesh out but just never got around to developing further. I was a little curious as to whether this was his first book or not and was a little confused to find out it actually came after his earlier ones. It feels like there was potential to be really interesting, but it just never got to where it needed to be substance-wise.

- Kalpar

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