Top critical review
Strange Retellling of a Hans Christiansen Andersen Fairytale
Reviewed in the United States on October 12, 2020
I read Hidensee, Mirror Mirror (which I am going to re-read next), and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire, all of which I enjoyed. In each of them I was able to discern their relationship to the original fairytale.
It was not that way with this novel. Laura is a half-orphan whose father is dead, whose mother after a breakdown is confined in a facility, anqd who is taken in by her Old World paternal grandparents who love her very much, but to whose devotion she is blind until late in the story. Unhappy and bullied at school, she thinks of herself as a non-person, cynical, friendless, and unable to attach to anyone. For responding destructively to bullying, she is expelled. Her exasperated grandparents make arrangements to send her to a boarding school in Canada.
There are hints that she might be mulling over writing stories if she can develop a voice and more life experience.
There appears on her icy window ledge one wintery night a boy with one arm and in the p!ace of the other, a wing as in the fairytale. Laura does stand in the place of a sister to Eric who in a lucid moment asks her to 'sister' him. Laura conceals and nurses him as best she can and provides him with an artificial wing, allowing Eric to escape the room which has become for him a cage.
He is foreign: German or Nordic He has no brothers. He is certainly wild, and he has no memories of where he came from, any idea of how he got to Laura's window ledge, or any idea where he will go. He is unable to express gratitude for her assistance, and only causes Laura to be blamed for a disaster he commits in the house, a blame she does not attempt to shirk. It is her grandparents' reaction to the deed they think she committed, that causes her to realize how much they do love her. I suppose it could be said that the fantasy element of the swan boy is a catalyst for change to Laura, who is freed in a way to open her heart to love and the possibility of friendship, and her imagination to the possibilities of storytelling.
The boy's origins and his fate remain a mystery.
This novel is not Maguire's best.