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Review: The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

I love a fairy tale retelling. But even more than that, I love a sophisticated fairy tale retelling – the kind that turns the original story on its head, links it with other stories and really makes you think a little differently about the message that it’s actually giving your children.

Cinderella is Dead, which I read last year, did this to some extent. It examined how it can be dangerous to promote stories of ‘good’ brides and wives can damage society when they are behaving that way because it is desired by men. The Charmed Wife is yet another Cinderella retelling, but this is a Cinderella who is thirteen years married and wants her husband DEAD.

Title: The Charmed Wife
Author: Olga Grushin
Pages: 288
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: January 21st 2021
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 4.5 stars

About the Book

Thirteen and a half years after her happily ever after to Prince Roland, Cinderella is drowning in palace chintz, boredom, depression and can barely remember her two children. Roland is no longer the man she thought she’d married. Cinderella sneaks out of the palace with the final few ingredients requested by a witch who will brew her a potion. But Cinderella is no longer interested in regaining the love that was lost, as it was perhaps never there in the first place …

My Review

This book is heady and trippy in a way that can make it hard to read – it’s got that strange Gormenghast/Lewis Carroll quality that means that you can’t quite tell where or when in time it is – elements of the now seep in with the core fairy tale that you’d expect and it makes everything confusing and the lines of the story blur together.

I think that can be quite off-putting for some people. For me, it works, but if it was a longer novel I definitely would have run out of patience. Instead, the whole story feels like a splintered mirror, with fragments scattered everywhere, and the protagonist is drifting along, trying to repair it into the resemblance of what things once were, and what she once was.

There are so many elements of the kind of literature that I like that this novel draws on too, and I loved spotting them. First off, this isn’t just Cinderella’s story. As she removes herself from the Prince and the palace, we see fragments of others’ fairy tales that cross over with her own – some are those Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault or Brothers Grimm tales that we know well, and just as gruesome. Others are the same, but with an Angela Carter-style modern twist, from the Twelve Dancing Princesses, to Bluebeard.

All of these tales of women – written and designed to punish, to put in place – have been twisted slightly to show them in more modern situations, or with more brutal outcomes. Each woman has her own fairy tale, and each woman has her own real-life pain. It’s that strange way of talking about nonsensical situations as though they are commonplace that I find really compelling. But all of this misery was broken up by the comic rise and fall of a fantastic mouse empire.

We’re not here to like Cinderella, but we are here to understand her pain, her depression, her anxiety, her fears as her own mind and own tale become unravelled in a book that reads like a fairy tale Bell Jar. I loved the nearly seamless integration of Shrek-style fairy potions to more real-life ones.

Separation and divorce is never a fairy tale, as this story aptly shows.

4.5 stars from me – and a lot more to think about an unpick in this dark and clever story.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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