Earlier this year I read The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, and while it wasn’t perfect there were moments in that novel of historical fiction that I loved. When Ana recommended this short story collection by Donoghue I admit I was instantly curious. Having read Kissing the Witch I am convinced this is the stronger work of the two . But it’s more than the better one of the two, for this may be one of my favourite reads of the year.
Kissing the Witch is a collection of thirteen interrelated stories hiding familiar fairy tales beneath the surface. Each story is connected to the previous one by providing part of the back story of one of the characters mentioned. Each story starts out with the question of who [character Y] was before she did/were/became [X]. Thus, as you progress through the collection, you travel back in time: each subsequent story preceding the former.
I read Kissing the Witch with wonder, and with awe. Donoghue does something very refreshing and daring in this collection. There are erotic scenes, there are scenes of revenge, there is truth, and there is an absolute overload of female empowerment.
Upon finishing the collection I knew right away that this was one I’d like to have on my shelves if I ever have children, in particular girls. Because instead of the traditional fairy tales in which girls turn princesses and are often portrayed as passive, these are stories with heavy feminist overtones – which I loved. These girls or women take, or learn to take, their life into their own hands. The overall message of many of them is that female, or generally individual, agency is needed to live your own life, and it tells you you have the right to claim it. For example, the advice of a witch in one of the stories where a woman sells her voice to chase the man she loves is
“Change for your own sake, if you must, not for what you imagine another will ask of you.”
But the emphasis placed on personal agency, identity, and strength are not were my overt love for this collection ends. Because it shows women’s lives as not revolving solely around capturing men (although there are women who did, or have done, so in the stories). This one would pass the Bechdel Test without a doubt. There are women who befriend each other, there are women who give each other advice, and there are women who love each other without it being a big deal.
I will say it again: this is the kind of fairy tale inspired collection I would love to read to any future kids. Reading it as an adult, I felt completely empowered. And that literally made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I read and reviewed Kissing the Witch as part of Fairy Tale Friday and my personal Fairy Tale Project. Click over to the hosts of Fairy Tale Friday: Books 4 Learning and Literary Transgressions for more fairy tale themed posts.