Today I will be reviewing “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by one of my favorite authors, Gregory Maguire. Maguire is also the author behind the “Wicked” series, which is based on “The Wizard of Oz” series. I realize “Confessions…” isn’t on my reading list, but I found it while cleaning my room & thought it deserved another read, as I have read it before many years ago. Please continue reading for my thoughts on this book!
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As mentioned above, I think Maguire is a wonderful author, if a bit long winded. He writes paragraphs upon paragraphs, sometimes pages, of descriptive prose. It can be a bit much at times. I’m a long winded writer too though, so I suppose I should be able to relate to him! I like how he takes traditional fairy tale characters and explores different avenues of their story. I’m not a Cinderella fan, although it would probably appear that I am since I have reviewed the “Cinderella 2015” film, and now this book. Despite that, I was looking forward to this story because I knew Maguire was going to write something much more imaginative and complex than what we’ve all seen in the cartoon.
“Confessions…” is set in 17th century Holland and essentially tells the story of Cinderella from the perspective of one of her “ugly” stepsisters – as you may well have guessed. If you’re looking for a spin on “Cinderella”, I would say this story isn’t for you. This truly is a version from another perspective focused mostly on telling that person’s story. The reader gets more information on the stepmother and stepsisters such as their history, how they find their way into Cinderella’s family, & their feelings & actions. It takes about 200 pages (out of 368 total) before the reader sees shades of the “traditional” story. The plot is much darker than Disney’s version, although not as dark as it could be, I suppose. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t fully see coming & will avoid spoiling for you so you can experience it yourself.
– Clara aka Cinderella, is a much different character than the Disney Princess most people know and love. If you’re a fan of Cinderella films such as “Cinderella 2015” & “Ever After”, I imagine you will like the overall feel of this character & story in general. Although it takes some time for her to get there, Clara is a much more “modern” woman, compared to her Disney counterpart.
– Margarethe aka Lady Tremaine aka The Evil Stepmother doesn’t change too much in this version. However, her cruelty is explored beyond the typical reasoning of, “She was jealous because Cinderella was pretty”. That’s certainly true, but a lot of her cruelty stems from living without love. I take issue with this concept because there are people who suffer from loss everyday & don’t enslave their stepchildren. With that being said, I understand that fairy tales serve as metaphors for everyday life. So the overall point is that life without love can turn people into their worst selves. Margarethe’s jealousy isn’t just based on looks. She’s jealous of the good opportunity that will come Clara’s way because of her looks. In her time, most marriages weren’t based on love, they were based on dowries, bringing families together, & creating a lineage to inherit titles & property. In a time when feelings didn’t hold much value, a pretty face was definitely a selling point when it came to matchmaking. A pretty girl could hope to marry someone of good social standing & income. I’m comfortable saying this is still the case today, but that’s a topic for another post. With this line of thinking, Maguire touches on the economic & social implications of a widow with two daughters & the stepmother’s concern for their future, especially regarding potential marriages. SPOILER! I thought it was extremely clever to SPOILER! have Margarethe go blind towards the end of the novel. Margarethe was never able to see her daughter’s strengths & let greed blind her, so it’s only fitting that she ends up literally unable to see. This could also be a reference to a version of Cinderella where, after finding her happy ending, Cinderella has her stepmother/sister’s blinded by having birds peck out their eyes.
Pg 349: If you’re familiar with other versions of Cinderella, you can spot some references to them on this page. There are other references throughout, but this page had the most concentrated amount.
Pg 366: “Who knows what bumblebees, crows, or she-elephants lurked there…” These were all familiars to Elphaba or key characters in the “Wicked” series. I didn’t catch that reference while reading “Confessions…”. I only noticed it by chance because I read “Wicked” (again) after finishing “Confessions” so it was fresh in my mind while reviewing my notes to write this review.
An entertaining story that kept me engaged. I thought the idea that love can make or break you, as evidenced by Margarethe, didn’t really carry over to the other character’s relationships, so I was somewhat disappointed by that. Clara & Iris, one of the stepsisters, don’t really blossom when they find love, so that theme kind of fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed Maguire’s clever story telling & references to other Fairy Tales, versions of Cinderella, & even his own work.
I enjoyed reading this story, but will it make it to my list of ultimate favorite books? Hm, not quite. As I mentioned above, I felt that one of the main messages of the story wasn’t fully developed so overall, the story didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I won’t take away any of the messages to build my life upon, it was just entertaining. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, I would still recommend this book. This is especially good for those looking for darker versions of their favorite fairy tales or wanting to read about a different character’s perspective.
Have you read “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” or any of Maguire’s other novels? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my character breakdown of Margarethe, the Evil Stepmother? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!