Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Spin Gold

I have a problem.  If something bothers me when I'm reading a book, I tend to let that prejudice my opinion and pretty soon I can't see anything good about it.  I obsess over that one fault and refuse to find redeeming qualities.  I know, not good.  I'm working on it.  Such was the case for How To Spin Gold by Elizabeth Cunningham.  It is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, though it was written way before fairy tale retelling became popular.  It's also written for an adult audience, so it's not really in the same genre of Ella Enchanted or The Goose Girl, which are written for young readers.  It's more like Cunningham used that tale as the framework for her story. 

Our main character is the Girl with the Silver Eye, unnamed because she was never given one until later in life.  Born crippled and with eyes of different colors, the girl is shunned by her village and her family.  Set during 12th century, women have few opportunities in life besides having marriage and babies.  After a random meeting with the Prince, the girl decides to make her own way in the world.  She meets up with the Wise Woman of the Western Wood.  Or Witch, as most call her outside of her hearing.  The Mother, as she prefers to be called, takes the girl under her wing and teaches her herblore, midwifery, and everything about her small domain in the woods.  The girl is a quick learner and adds her own mastery of needlework to the pot.

The girl is tormented by her obsession with the prince and with the girl who eventually marries him.   She becomes the Mother's heir and eventually learns her true name, but she's so dissatisfied with her life that she lets her anger and jealousy become an obstacle.  Then, when the moment comes where she saves the new Princess's life she demands a harsh price: the first daughter born to the Princess.  Only when the baby is born, she is unable to take her away when she sees how much the Prince loves his daughter.  She's not as harsh as she wishes she was.

There are so many aspects of this book that are lovely.  The evolution of the girl, her reconciliation with who she really is versus what she wishes she were, the contrast of following light or being consumed by darkness, and the themes of forgiveness and redemption.  But I hated the language.  I didn't like how Cunningham was trying to write as if she were a writer of that time period.  I also thought her feminist empowerment idea had made for really one-dimensional male characters.  It bugged me.  It wasn't until I went to my book group meeting and listened to everyone's perspective on the book that I realized I had almost missed out on so much because of a couple of hang-ups.  What if this hadn't been a book group selection and instead I had read it on my own and then panned it here on Red Hot Eyebrows?  Then you all would have missed out too, if you took my word for it.

Thanks to the lovely women of my book group who showed me the light.  Next time I think I don't like a book, I'll just ask some of them to read it too and tell me what I can't see.  I wouldn't list this on my top books for 2010, but it certainly had more value that I originally gave it.


  1. Okay, but in your defense, that type of writing style is OBNOXIOUS. (I'm speaking in general terms. I haven't read this book.)

  2. It was obnoxious! I kept thinking that if I read the word "knave" even one more time, I was going to have to hunt Elizabeth Cunningham down and punch her in the face.

  3. I really need to get you two together for a party some time. I'd love to hear you discuss the Twilight books at the same time. It would be so entertaining. I am also annoyed by that kind of writing. And you're right about book groups. I've been talked into seeing good in some books I thought I completely detested.

  4. Oh, and when I say you two, I mean Jenny and Rachel. Seriously, when can we have a party? Utah is kind of right between California and Colorado. I'll make brownies.

  5. I think that is what I love about book club...Learning from others and agreeing to disagree. I think that the UN needs a book club.