Fairytales for Wilde Girls: My Dream Novel.
July 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Isolda Wilde lives on the edges of our reality. She goes to school and to the occasional party, but she is only truly at home when she’s in the woods near her house. Her mother suffers crippling depression, and since Isola’s father barely even acknowledges her presence, Isola takes full responsibility for her when she falls into a dark spell. She has a few friends, but her real support network comes in the form of her six brother-princes, a variety of supernatural beings who are bound to protect and to love her. They’ve been with her since she was a child, and they know her better than most of the people in her life. Alejandro, the spectre of an opium-addled dandy, is her longest-serving brother-prince; Grandpa Furlong, friend to spiders, exudes a fatherliness otherwise lacking in Isola’s life; Ruslana, a Fury, is not quite human, and bound to protect girls and women; Christobelle, the mermaid with a bloody past, materialises to comfort Isola in puddles of water and bathtubs; Rosekin is a mischievous bubble-gum pink fairy who scarfs roses like there’s no tomorrow; and James, Isola’s only human brother-prince, is a lifelong friend (or maybe more).
Although Isola is obsessed with the book of rare fairytales she carries around with her, she never truly expected to live through one. While wandering through her beloved woods one day, she stumbles across the corpse of a cruelly murdered girl her own age, stuffed mercilessly into a cage hanging from a tree. When the ghost of the murdered girl begins to haunt Isola, her world begins to fall apart. Her brother-princes are driven to madness, and one by one, they are forced to leave her. Slowly, methodically, the ghost of the murdered girl begins to dismantle Isola’s world.
There was something familiar but strange about her – Snow White with a suntan. Cinderella in biker boots. Tough and delicate and magical and real all at once.
It’s hard to describe how I felt about Fairytales for Wilde Girls without getting a tad emotional. I loved it that much. There are so many little things about this novel that made me happy, not the least of which is the fact that it feels like a Florence and the Machine album come to life (complete with Girl with One Eye). And then there are the goregous illustrations by Courtney Brims, a Brisbane artist. On top of that, the lovely Allyse has interspersed lovely little literary references throughout the novel, including Oscar Wilde’s beautiful poem Requiescat, written for his dearly departed little sister, Isola’s namesake.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls is peppered with memorable characters, all of whom are lovingly drawn by an attentive author. Isola herself is erratic, scatter-brained and absent-minded, but also thoughtful, kind and intelligent. I particularly enjoyed Isola’s fashion sense. Rather than being fashion-conscious, or even consistent, she seems to dress to represent the way she’s at all times.
Isola, aged eleven, came down the stairs, pale but lovely, sadder than she should have known at her age. He tried to fatten her up, but the weight went to the birds. She was her, but not quite her – she now possessed the strangest calm, stolen from the girls in that damn storybook.
Isola’s newly acquired neighbour, Edgar is another wonderful character brought to life in Fairytales. Throughout the novel, Edgar and Isola’s affection for one another grows, but Isola is taken over by the supernatural battle she is fighting before they can explore a potential relationship together. Edgar’s quiet, patient love is the sweetest thing about this book. It’s enormously apparent that he loves Isola because of her flaws and eccentricity, and not in spite of them, and it’s truly lovely to read.
I have to say, though, that despite the wonderful supernatural characters in Fairytales for Wilde Girls, my favourite character was Grape, Isola’s lifelong best friend. Every scene featuring Grape was crafted with such apparent love that I, as the reader, could not help but feel particular affection for her. Grape (real name Grace) is an outspoken, athletic girl whose fierce loyalty to her friend is matched only by her sense of humour. There’s a real sense of Australian-ness to Grape, too. I wanted to share this little scene, where Grape questions Edgar about his feelings for Isola, because I found it heart-wrenchingly bittersweet:
‘…Hey, don’t look so worried! I’m just looking out for my best friend! I love her to a million stinkin’ bits, I swear. It hasn’t been easy, though, not since…’ She jerked her head meaningfully towards the upper floor of the Wilde house. Edgar craned his neck to see the latticed windows, the firmly closed curtains. ‘That’s not to say I’ve been the easiest friend, either. And she’s always stuck by me. When the girls at school found out.’
‘ What do you mean?’
‘I mean it’s hard enough being the “foreign girl”,’ she said , with a smile that crinkled up her whole face and suddenly wet eyes, ‘without being ”the only gay kid in school” too.’
With lyrical, melancholy prose, Allyse paints a candy-Gothic portrait of Isola’s world. This story didn’t end the way I thought it would, and I enjoyed it all the more for that. I was dreading an awful, Sucker-punch type ending that would suck the magic out of the book, but to my delight, it didn’t come. Instead, Allyse gives us a new Alice, whose Wonderland is not down the rabbit’s hole, but all around her, and is all the richer for it. It was a struggle to leave this world when I finished the novel, and I think that that is the mark of a truly gifted author.
If you’re into dark, whimsical fairytales, faeries, unicorns, bunnies with weirdly sharp teeth and a habit of speaking in the third person, Florence and the Machine, Oscar Wilde and/or Sylvia Plath, please purchase this beautiful novel. Visit Allyse Near at her website or see her profile on Goodreads.
Lovely readers, what are your favourite fairytale adaptations?
Kalystia, of The Novelettes.