This is an excellent companion piece to Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The quality of the hardback is excellent, and Tan’s sculptures are exquisite. My only criticism, and the only reason I can’t give the book 5 stars on its own merit is the format. To draw focus to the artist, the tales were distilled into single paragraphs on the facing pages of each photograph. While well-intentioned, there is just no way to take stories as wonderfully simple and flowing as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, or Rapunzel and compress them to a few sentences. I know the concept was not to be an illustrated Grimm’s Tales, and I don’t know how best they should have juxtaposed the two, but it was simply stilted. The sculptures are plucked right from the mythological core of each tale and they are staged beautifully. I cannot compliment them enough (and certainly not with mere words). But they belong alongside the full tales or in a book on their own. Every admirer of folklore & fairy tales must check out Shaun Tan.
This is a very charming book, and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s always refreshing to read a southern writer. I have to say, after reading this book only because I loved the movie (like so many others, I’m sure), that the movie makers did an astounding job of adapting it. The book is chronological, simple, and sparsely told. The movie not only adds characters, nuances, and scenes, it also tells the story nonlinearly and mixes elements of several of the tall tales together.
This book started off so well, opening with a murder, with intrigue, with the premise of well-to-do socialites drawn in to exploring their ancient carnal natures. There was even a passage toward the beginning–by whom I assumed would take on a leading role but turned out to be little more than a side character–about how the Greeks believed in ritualistically cutting loose since repression was prerequisite to cold-blooded, predatory evil. I thought that’s what this book was going to be about, and in the exposition, it certainly seemed headed in that direction.
Around page 150, Henry confides in the narrator the group’s machinations, popping the bubble Tartt so carefully constructed, and dashing the book’s sense of mystery. From there on out came 400 pages of prose consisting mostly of various characters visiting other characters’ dwellings in every conceivable combination to talk about “what to do next.” The author obsesses over drinking, smoking, sexual pairings, prescription drugs, food, and insomnia. I got the same nihilistic impression from Another Country, The Great Gatsby, and The Sun Also Rises, that sense of “how is this kind of depraved, shallow materialism supposed to drive the plot forward?” It’s employed not as a device or critique, but presented as the actual meat-and-potatoes of the book itself, that I am supposed to spend 400 pages caring about these trust fund babies’ furtive glances, hurt feelings, fragile friendships, sleeping and eating habits, blackout episodes, and betrayals. I didn’t.