Tag Archives: Fairy Tales

Visiting a Fairy Tale Castle (Castle Coch)

Those of you who have been long term visitors to Savidge Reads will know that I adore fairy tales. I love the unadulteratedly dark originals, I love the old Ladybird and (most of) the Disney adaptations, I love retelling and I love modern fairy tales. I even named my first pet, a duck, Rapunzel. Basically this is all just a very long way of saying I REALLY love fairy tales. So when we visited Castle Coch (and yes there may have been a smattering of giggles about the name, the ‘ch’ is meant to be quite throaty not a ‘k’ – snigger – or ‘ch’ as you might automatically do) I was greeted by what to my mind was like Sleeping Beauty’s castle as we arrived towards it.


I won’t lie this is a photo of a postcard I bought as you can’t quite get the magnificence in some of the photos I took from the back of a car on a motorway. After we made it (we almost didn’t) up the windy drive we were in fact greeted by this wonderful silhouette because Dom, Michelle, Polly seemed to bring the sun to Wales with us…


And possibly a ghost if that random blue orb is anything to go by. One up the drawbridge and inside you feel even more like you are in Sleeping Beauty. It is utterly silent. 

We were the only people there and the design of the building is that you open doors and just wander, seriously just wander anywhere. Well anywhere that isn’t locked, as with visiting the farm meant to be Wuthering Heights Polly tried to get in anywhere extra she could only with little success unlike in Haworth. Anyway… as I was saying it’s so still and so silent and the rooms have been left like everyone has just vanished. I imagined Sleeping Beauty would have had this suite, I know she’s not real, at the top of one of the turrets…


And Castle Coch does give great turret…


It also has some of the most beautiful paintings, murals, tiling and utterly breathtaking frescos. I was smitten with the one below which I would love on my own ceiling in my next house or maybe as inspiration for my next tattoo. Isn’t it stunning?


After we had done the inside we went back out for a wander of the grounds which you could quite easily imagine Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf wandering through.


It also had a pretty fantastic moat which also showed the depths of the very, very creepy dungeons plus its ramparts and battlements. Okay, I am just using castle based words I think I know the meaning of but might actually not, so let’s move on.


All in all it was pretty magical really. The perfect way to start our trip away in Cardiff. Who doesn’t love an amazing old castle, or a manor, or stately home. Plenty of room for a huge library… One day guys, one day.


If you are ever in the Cardiff vicinity please do visit this wonderful, wonderful Welsh castle. It’s an absolute treat. Speaking of treats if you tell me about your favourite castle (this one might compete with my other favourite, Warwick) or your favourite manor/stately home (mine is Hardwick Hall thanks for asking) then I might have a spare Castle Coch bookmark for one of you. Yes I know, how could you not want that?

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A Wild Swan and Other Tales – Michael Cunningham

“And then what?” How many times have we been asked that by a small child or indeed remember asking it as a small child ourselves? Yet when we are young and are first read fairy tales you never ask that question when the words ‘and they lived happily ever after’ appear at the end. Michael Cunningham does this in A Wild Swan and Other Tales which somehow manages to combine the magical with reality and has some truly wonderful moments for doing so. From the very start of this collection we are greeted with Dis. Enchant, not quite an introduction rather a statement of intent mixed with a slightly knowing question that makes us ponder the question of when we went from the innocent all believing to the more cynical and, dare we even think it, more wicked selves, this sets the tone for everything to come.

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Fourth Estate, 2015, hardback, short stories, 144 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Please ask yourself. If you could cast a spell on the ludicrously handsome athlete and the lingerie model he loves, or on the weeded movie stars whose combined DNA is likely to produce children of another species entirely… would you? Does their aura of happiness and prosperity, their infinite promise, irritate you, even a little? Does it occasionally make you angry?
If not, blessings on you.
If so, however, there are incantations and ancient songs, there are words to be spoken at midnight, during certain phases of the moon, beside bottomless lakes hidden deep in the woods, or in secret underground chambers, or at any point where three roads meet.
These curses are surprisingly easy to learn.

I may have let out a small cackle myself having read that. In fact during A Wild Swan and Other Tales I cackled on quite a few occasions as Michael Cunningham looks at what went before once upon a time and what followed on from happy ever after with this collection of ten stories which mainly feature fairytales that many of us will have grown up loving. From favourites Snow White to Beauty and the Beast and from Jack and the Beanstalk to Rapunzel each tale is taken back to its darker routes and then given a slight tweak or twist all encompassed in a rather gothic essence and large sprinkling of as much dry wit as there is magical fairy dust.

It is hard to give much away about the way in which Cunningham does this without ruining the twist, which is of course what makes them all so (prince) charming to read, however I will try. In Beasts we discover that if you fall for a beast you might still be falling for a beast just one that is more apparent and has been changed for good cause. In Steadfast: Tin we look at how we fall in love with the people we really wouldn’t imagine and then how we make that love last and how complicated marriage can be, even if built on true love it can still go awry. In Her Hair we look at if looks matter and if so what happens if they fade.

Throughout each tale Cunningham’s wry wit is what keeps them either endearing, cackle inducing or all the more twisted. In the title story A Wild Swan there are several very funny moments all around the impracticalities of having swans wings instead of arms, on the subway or in a club etc, that actually become bittersweet and all the more thought provoking when you realise that the tale is in fact about imperfections and even disabilities by which people are judged. This black humour is also used just as often to be simply downright funny, sometimes even with a knowing wink, well slight of hand.

Jack and his mother still don’t have a black American Express card. They don’t have a private plane. They don’t own an island.
And so, Jack goes up the beanstalk again. He knocks for a second time at the towering cloud-door.
The giantess answers again. She seems not to recognise Jack, and it’s true that he’s no longer dressed in the cheap lounge lizard outfit – the tight pants and synthetic shirt he boosted at the mall. He’s all Marc Jacobs now. He has a shockingly expensive haircut.
But still. Does the giantess really believe a different, better dressed boy has appeared at her door, one with the same sly grin and the same dark-gold hair, however improved the cut?

I must also mention the illustrations before I move on, which are wonderful. Using only black and white artist Yuko Shimizu creates wonderful gothic images of depth which have you noticing more and more. The book itself is designed to be a work of art. The hardback edition also has a wonderful embossed cover with swans on, which you might not get on the paperback and certainly can’t get on the Kindle edition, coughs. Each story is given its own illustration to accentuate the world of the tale that Cunningham has created. It’s beautiful.

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To show I don’t have completely rose tinted glasses on this collection just because I love a good fairytale and a good reworking of one, I have to admit there were a couple of stories that didn’t quite do it for me like the others. Both Little Man and A Monkey’s Paw were two which I felt didn’t quite work either in there more modern reincarnations or in sync with the rest of the collection despite their best efforts. Little Man, a reworking of Rumplestiltskin, is a clever account of the rarity of a single man who would like a child of his own and can’t really go about that by normal means, it just felt slightly long and the ending (which you will all know) didn’t quite work in its modern confines – it felt a bit wedged in. A Monkey’s Paw was good but as it isn’t based on a fairytale it felt a bit out of place in the collection though it has a wonderful take on both grief and what it is to be very different from what people call the norm. Eight out of ten isn’t bad though which is, funnily enough what I would give this collection should I still give ratings on here.

Overall A Wild Swan and Other Tales excels and I think the best examples of those moments are with my two personal favourites Crazy Old Lady and Poisoned. Crazy Old Lady looks at what it is that would make a women go slightly crazy and leave New York to go and build a house made of candy in the woods before two children (who you might have heard of) come calling and do the unthinkable. Poisoned looks at what happens between Snow White and her handsome prince after the wedding, when it soon turns out that he might have a slightly disturbing kink. These two tales have the whole essence of what the originals did, the brutal, the gothic, the sinister and the sexual and who can argue with those traits.

I really, really enjoyed A Wild Swan and Other Stories, I was thrilled and comforted by both its sense of the new and sense of nostalgia all the way through. It was the perfect collection to end my reading year on in 2015 and was the perfect introduction (I know, I know it is shocking to admit this) to Michael Cunningham’s writing. I need to get cracking and read much more of his work… And get back to reading more and more collections of new, twisted or simply retold fairytales too.

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Filed under 4th Estate Books, Fairy Tales, Fourth Estate Books, Michael Cunningham, Review, Short Stories, Yuko Shimizu

Fairy Tales – Viktor & Rolf

I have often mentioned how I am a fan of the fairy tale, speaking of which did any of you see the brilliant show The Ladybird Books Story on BBC4 last night, they had a wonderful section on the Well Loved Tales I still have many a copy of. Anyway, back on track Savidge! There is something about this time of year as Christmas is almost upon us that makes me think of the magical (the potential of snow maybe?) and so is a time I turn to fairy tales be they for adults or children. One such collection I read earlier in the year is perfect for anyone of any age and so I thought I would tell you all about Viktor and Rolf’s collection Fairy Tales, which would make an idea stocking filler if you are looking for anything last minute.

Hardie Grant Books, 2011, hardback, fiction, short stories, 144 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Fairy Tales is not the first foray of fashion designers turned writers, however what is different with Viktor and Rolf’s collection (pun intended) is that this is not a case of the fairy tales we know and love being retold, oh no, these are twelve wonderful original tales that make Viktor and Rolf seem like the modern Brothers Grimm. We have tales of disco hedgehogs, spoilt princesses who need to learn their lesson, planets who pass in the night and much more. My favourite I think had to be about The Little Dragon Butterfly, rather lost in the world and not sure where he fits in which made me feel rather moved and laugh rather loudly within very few pages.

The bees were so angry that they charged straight at the little dragon butterfly. He took one more look at the burning nest and at the swarm of angry bees and flew away as quickly as he could.
As he escaped, he accidentally set a few trees on fire.
‘Go away, you scary little freak!’, the bees called after him. ‘And don’t ever come back!’ The dragon butterfly was now in a real panic. He had no idea what was happening to him.

This theme of being ‘different’ or ‘other’ is probably the most common in the book. We have The Disco Hedgehog who randomly starts to glow multi-coloured and luminous in the night, and very much out of the ordinary and girls such as Doris, or Candy Floss, who is teased for her hair. Yet as we read on Viktor and Rolf show how differences should be celebrated and treated as rather special beauties which we each possess, a lovely motto for anyone young or old especially as it is done with so much fun and not an ounce of being holier than though.

Candyfloss

As you would expect from two fashion designers the book is a thing of beauty and illustrated immaculately throughout the main theme of it all being monochrome and a rather vivid, almost neon, pink. As the stories vary in length sometimes the imagery surrounds the whole story (as above), sometimes it is interwoven with a page of text or takes over two pages at the heart of the tale, and quotes are ribboned throughout the text giving it a luxurious feeling whilst also harking very much to fashion. It is all done beautifully.

There is also lovely modern twist to many of the tales too whilst remaining magical, a deft touch indeed. One of my very favourites being The Fifth Perfume Bottle all about a poor little bottle teased by all the others for being the one that the princess always chooses last, well suffice to say we have all been picked last for something (any ball game at school in my case) but here the little bottle gets the last laugh. Flowerbomb, which is the title of one of the pairs perfumes which they say is ‘all about the power of transformation. The power of every individual to turn anything into something positive’, sums up the very story itself. It is a tale of a dictator who rules with fear someone decides to swap his evil bombs for something much nicer.

Perfume Bottle

All in all Fairy Tales is an absolutely stunning collection, though I do think they should have kept the original name of Sprookjes – amazing. It is a book which will make you laugh rather a lot (especially The One-Day Wonder, all about flies and what they like to hang around in, sure to make young kids giggle along with your inner young self – I know I did), escape into a wonderful series of worlds and just thoroughly enjoy however old you are. Though I think I will have to pack this in my bag for when I go and see some of the (much) younger Savidge’s at New Years as I think really this is a book that should be enjoyed by differing generations of fairy tale lovers, together.

Have any of you read Viktor and Rolf’s collection and if so what did you make of it? Are you a fan of fairy tales or do you think we should grow out of them (if you do I may bar you from this blog, ha!) If you are a fan, which are your favourite fairy tales, be they old, new or retold?

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Filed under Hardie Grant, Review, Short Stories, Viktor & Rolf

I’m Sick… But The Cats Are Blogging!

Since the excitement of a few days in London (which I have realised I took almost no photos during) and the rollercoaster thrills and spills of judging the Not The Booker I have come down, quite literally from all those highs, with a really nasty cold. I don’t want to say flu as its not quite there but it isn’t far off. So I have actually been spending more time being grumpy, feeling a bit sorry for myself and listening to audiobooks as my eyes were so sore.

Well, I am still feeling pretty crap but my eye ache has moved to my throat and nose so at least I can read again and this morning I decided I would grab some books of the shelves that would be perfect reads and this was the haul I managed very groggily and swiftly before disappearing into the depths of my duvet once more…

Ill Books

Before we discuss them, yes you’re right that is an ebook in the mix of all of these treats. I have discovered, begrudgingly, another perk in the world of ereaders that if you are stuck in bed and ache too much to do too much a few swipes and there is your next read. Last night I simply couldn’t resist a new Susan Hill ghost story in the form of this ‘Kindle Single’ perfect for the time of year ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. I am very much looking forward to it. As I am also looking forward to reading the next, for me not actually the newest, Agatha Raisin mystery ‘Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate’ (I have let Agatha for too long). I also have Victor & Rolf’s ‘Fairy Tales’ which sounds amazing with tales like ‘Disco Hedgehog’, Flowerbomb’ and ‘The Fifth Perfume Bottle’. Finally, but by no means last, I thought as the nights are getting darker (well the days are in my sick suite as I have not allowed the curtains to be opened) it was time for some crime and I need to catch up with my favourite duo Rizzoli & Isles. So that should see me through a day or two while I get this out my system.

Now I mentioned the cats were blogging. Well they aren’t blogging here. In fact, as part of a special ‘Cat Day’ in honour of the ‘The Big New Yorker Book of Cats’ they have blogged for Windmill Books and you can see it here. I think they believe that book offers will be flying in. They are acting like they are really chilled about it…

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…But we know the truth. Do have a look at them discussing ‘Living With A Book Lover’, they are quite cute after all, if incredibly naughty for not letting me know a think about it, ha!

Hope all of you are well? What are you reading at the mo? Is it good or bad? Which books do you turn to when you are poorly? How cute are cats reading?

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Grimm Tales – Philip Pullman

I mentioned that it was the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm last week and one book which seems to have made the most of this timing is Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. This is a book that I have to admit I didn’t hear about until it was out, I would have expected more fanfare to be honest, and as soon as I heard about it I simply had to get my hands on it. It also seemed the perfect time of year, just before Christmas and just after the anniversary, to talk about it when there is that little sense of nostalgia and magic in the air and these tales are just the sort of thing to turn to either between the festive franticness or indeed if you need to escape from your family at any point. Oh… none of you feel the need to do the latter, how awkward.

Penguin Classics, hardback, 2012, fiction, 406 pages, from my personal TBR

I thought, before embarking upon reading them, that ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’ would be Philip Pullman completely retelling the tales of the Brothers Grimm. In a way it is, though Pullman admits himself that he has only lightly retold them, yet in a way it sort of isn’t. That’s a helpful explanation from me isn’t it?

What Pullman really does is tell the stories as they were originally, basically before they were Disney-fied or Ladybird-ily made brighter and more chipper, putting back in all the darker details and the twists and turns that have strangely been forgotten, or maybe airbrushed is a better expression. He also gives the language a little tweak here and there and modernises it for the new younger reader too. In modernising them it seems Pullman is making them more relevant for the youth of today, he also adds referential relevance for adult readers in the part of the book that I almost enjoyed as the tales themselves. How does he do this? Each story finds itself with end notes which tell you the ‘type’ of story it is, where the Brothers Grimm heard it, where else worldwide it’s been told, how the Brothers changed it and how he has changed it, modernised it or made it work better (in his opinion) too.

Notes on Cinderella

Notes on Cinderella

In doing this, and in fact with the wonderful introduction to the true history of the tales which of course I left to read till last, we are almost given double the delight of the fifty (the Brothers Grimm actually recorded over 200 tales) as not only do we have the joy of reading them, with their full uncut endings, we also have the joy of discovering more about them. I really loved this aspect of the book and found on occasion I preferred the stories behind the stories to some of the stories themselves – not all the time, only once or twice.

As to the collection of tales themselves, well with favourites like ‘Snow White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rumplestiltskin’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, etc I was always going to be pleased. I was more so by the inclusion of lots and lots of tales that I hadn’t heard of before. New favourites such as ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’, which has the most boring title but is a tale of wicked stepmothers, witches, murder and even ghosts, are going to become favourites to re-read. Even if I wasn’t bowled over by a couple of them I enjoyed reading them for the fact they were new to me.

As for my old favourites, well of course I was thrilled to read them. I was delighted when I read Perrault’s original tales a few years ago by the darkness and the endings that my Ladybird classics certainly didn’t have, and this happened again with Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’. You will probably know that my very favourite as a child was ‘Rapunzel’ (so much so that is what I named my pet duck, no really) and I was quite horrified and thrilled when I discovered – spoiler alert – the twist was that Rapunzel not only got her haircut off, sent away and the prince blinded, but that she was actually pregnant (before marriage!!!!!) and became a homeless mother of twins before being reunited with her prince. Well I never!  They didn’t put that twist in ‘Tangled’ did they?

“The witch was lying in wait. She had tied Rapunzel’s hair to the window hook, and when she heard him call, she threw it down as the girl had done. The prince climbed up, but instead of his beloved Rapunzel, at the window he found an ugly old woman, demented with anger, whose eyes flashed with fury as she railed at him:
  ‘You’re her fancy-boy, are you? You worm your way into the tower, you worm your way into her affections, you worm your way into her bed, you rogue, you leech, you lounge-lizard, you high-born mongrel! Well, the bird’s not in her nest anymore! The cat got her. What d’you think of that, eh? And the cat’ll scratch your pretty eyes out too before she’s finished. Rapunzel’s gone, you understand? You’ll never see her again!’”

Overall I really enjoyed Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, occasionally there was the odd dud and the language sometimes felt too current, which I don’t think fairy or folk tales should ever do really, but I loved the favourites and the wealth of information that you learn about the Brothers Grimm’s and the tales themselves. I have heard some people miser about the fact Pullman hasn’t really done anything original with this collection just retold the tales, but 200 years ago that is exactly what the Brothers Grimm were doing wasn’t it?

Has anyone else given this collection a whirl? Which other collections of folk and fairy tales would you recommend? I have to admit I am quite keen to try Italo Calvino’s ‘Italian Folktales’, which is mentioned a lot by Pullman in this book. Finally, what is your very favourite fairy tale and why?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Philip Pullman, Review

200 Years (and a day) of Grimm’s Fairytales

I rather sillily forgot to write about the Brothers Grimm yesterday, which was actually the anniversary of their wonderful Fairytales. But what’s a day in terms of a few centuries? This does however seem a little more remiss of me when you put it into the context that I am actually currently devouring Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’, which is not his re-workings of the tales that the brothers brought to us, only updated into current English and returning as much as possible to the tales original states. Anyway I thought I would talk about that a little and also the legacy and effect that I think the Brothers Grimm have had on literature, as isn’t every story really at its heart a fairy tale, even if it doesn’t have magic in it – the magic is the storytelling itself.

Grimm Tales

One of the joys of reading the Pullman stories, which I will review in more detail before Christmas, is reading the ones that I love (like ‘Rapunzel’, we all know the story of how I named my pet duck after her when I was four don’t we?) and also discovering the ones that I really hadn’t heard of before, and indeed where they come from. Gems like ‘The Cat and the Mouse Set Up House’, ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘The Donkey Cabbage’, which have all made me want to get my hands on the originals. I do have them somewhere in the house (though we are in chaos getting new carpets, pre-Christmas was bad timing) so I will have to dig them out.

The other thing that this anniversary has also done is made me want to go back to the, edited and diluted (and not quite as dark as the grown up ones are), ones that I read when I was a child. I have dusted them all off in the hope that The Beard might read them to me over the next few nights.

Ladybird Collection

So what are your thoughts on the Grimms tales? Do you have any favourites? Do you think that deep down, even without the magic, that every story is really a fairy tale in its own way?

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The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

I find there are some authors that people recommend to you again and again, you say you will get around to reading them yet take forever to do so and then when you do read them realise you might have been missing out on a marvellous author for quite some time. Novel Insights has been telling me for ages and ages I should read Angela Carter but it took Claire of Paperback Reader making April her Angela Carter month for me to finally get started on any of her work. I opted for ‘The Bloody Chamber’ a collection of Angela Carter’s magical short stories. Yet as you may notice it’s taken me almost two months, as I started at the end of April, to get through them. Not because they were hard work but because I wanted to savour the experience.

I find writing about a collection of stories much more difficult than writing about a book. You don’t want to give away the plot of each tale, especially as some can be as short as two pages, as why would anyone read them afterwards? You also don’t want to sound vague and have people not go out and read them because they have no idea what they entail. So I think the best way of initially summarising ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is to call Carters collection an unusual retelling of fairytales we all know and love in a very original and slightly salacious way.

Tales we know and love from our childhood such as Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots and Red Riding Hood get a modern and yet utterly magical makeover. Take for example the title story ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (I won’t give away which fairytale its based on though some of you could guess) which has a virgin bride marrying a much older man and leaving her widowed mother to live in a mighty French castle. For the first few pages you think it’s a tale of old with horse drawn carriages and turrets until our heroine gives her mum a call and weeps over golden dolphin taps. Or in another tale where we see Beauty whizzing from the beasts in a taxi to London. Yet Carter cleverly gives the modern world a surreal and magical feel that makes it all work and also makes it a very original retelling, if you can have such a thing.  

The reason the word ‘salacious’ springs to mind with the collection is that it’s a very sensual and often sexual world that Carter creates, there are lots of wedding nights and loss of innocence in fairy tales and Carter brings all this to the fore with much deflowering along the way. I don’t know if it’s just in these tales Carter does this or if all her work has an underlying sensuousness? In fact one of my least favourite fairy tales ‘Puss-in-Boots’ became one of my favourites in this collection because it was such a wonderful romp. Whilst these tales are in quite a dark realm they all have humour in them somewhere. Her prose is colourful, entertaining, and taught. I had a sense that as she writes each word needs to be there you never feel there is excessive description, she paints something vividly but leaves the reader with her ideas to work upon themselves.

I wondered if some where Angela Carters original ideas too as I didn’t recognise some of the tales in the collection, mind you I only heard of and read Bluebeard last year so I am not a fairy tale aficionado. Though this collection makes me want to become one.  If I had one minor quibble with the book is the order in which the stories run, those with a ‘beast in them being popped next to one an other and all the tales of wolves of all varieties being popped together at the back means they merge into one slightly. Mind you if you are reading one every couple of days then that’s not going to matter is it and I found them the most enjoyable bedtime tales. 10/10

I really enjoyed this and am now wondering which other authors have had a crack at retelling the great fairytales? I also wonder where I should turn with Carter next as I do want to read much more. Should I go for another short story collection? Maybe try more of her fairytales? Or go for a novel… but which one? Who else has read her and what would you recommend?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Breaking Point & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier (there is a darkness and humour that I think makes these authors great companions to be read together and this collection features some of Daphne’s darker tales)

Singling Out The Couples – Stella Duffy (the magically surreal in a modern world and sensual nature of the tales above are very much present in Stella Duffy’s tale of a cruel Princess in need of a heart)

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Filed under Angela Carter, Books of 2010, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics