Wednesday, 4 March 2009

‘Godmother’ – Carolyn Turgeon (Three Rivers Press)


The story of Cinderella is one that I’ve had read to me, as a child, and one of my favourite Disney cartoons (although now I’ve got the ‘Bippity Boppity Boo’ song going through my head, curse me and my extremely suggestible mind...) I’ve never read the story myself though, probably something to do with having heard/seen it so many times that there didn’t seem to be any point in reading it. A retelling of the Cinderella story though is a completely different deal. Carolyn Turgeon has given us her take on the story and a very good take it is too...

What occurs in the world of the faerie will become manifest in the world of men...

Lil is an old woman who spends her days working in a tiny Manhattan bookstore and her nights in a lonely apartment. Lil has a secret though; she was the fairy godmother responsible for getting Cinderella to the ball to meet with Prince Charming. Things went wrong though and Lil’s mistake saw her banished to the world of humans, far away from the magical underwater world of her fairy sisters. Or is this all a lie created by Lil to cover up the trauma of a catastrophic breakdown and mental illness? Either way, a chance meeting with the beautiful Veronica offers Lil a chance at redemption; if Lil can find a soul mate for Veronica then she might just be able to return to the fairy world she so deeply longs for...

‘Godmother’ is a magical read that is slightly hampered by the fact that not an awful lot actually happens. There is a lot going on in Lil’s head (more on that in a bit) but all the things racing through her mind don’t really gel with the fact that she is an old lady who is starting to slow down and find it difficult to get around. This contrast jarred things for me (along with the many conversations that take place between characters) and really slowed things down. The flip side of this however is that the slow pace of the story means that the reader is forced to slow down and really appreciate the magic of what Turgeon has done...

Turgeon does not discriminate between the magical world of Faerie and the mundane human world, as far as she is concerned there is magic to be found no matter where you are and she sets out to prove this with great aplomb in ‘Godmother’. The world of Faerie is a bewitching place where magic is found under the water and in flowers, humans must tread carefully here or suffer the consequences... Manhattan doesn’t have fairies (or does it?) but is still a magical place full of light and colour. Fate lies round a corner (or in a diner) and help comes when you least expect it. The most ordinary looking of doors can lead to surprises that you wouldn’t even imagine. Lil isn’t truly a part of either world and her role as an observer makes both worlds seem even more magical. She cannot touch the world of Faerie and cannot truly interact with the human world either, what is more magical than the one thing that you cannot have?

Lil’s character is a delight to read and get into, especially as things click into place further along the line and work towards a conclusion. It’s a conclusion that’s as vague, or as clear cut, as you want it to be and that works well considering the nature of the plot. How clear cut was it for me? I’m not telling... ;o)
While it’s saddening to see Lil stumble through Manhattan life (not quite connecting and thrown into panics by the promise of life changing events on the horizon) it’s also uplifting to see how she sticks to her purpose and won’t let anything get in her way. The flashbacks to her previous life show the reader just exactly what Lil must atone for, or do they? ‘Godmother’ is certainly a novel that leaves you asking questions once you have finished reading.

Turgeon’s take on the Cinderella story (the part of ‘Godmother’ that concentrates on Lil as the Fairy Godmother) has that dark edge to it that all good fairytales should have. People may get what they want but it may not mean living happily ever after, Cinderella herself is a good case in point... I also like the way that Turgeon’s version of events ties in so well with the original story.

‘Godmother’ is a slow read at times but it’s a full of a whole world of magic that you will easily get lost in and is a book that will stay in my head for a long time to come.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

3 comments:

wend said...

I've not heard of this one before ... and, as I like alternative fairytales, this one will definately be added to my buy lists. Thanks :o)

James Swezey said...

Sounds like a fascinating character story, although wouldn't you say though that the whole Cinderella story is a bit over done?

Graeme Flory said...

I don't know... Right now I'd say that it's ok if there's an interesting spin on the original tale. I think 'Godmother' works well in this regard.