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Confessions Of An Ugly Sister by Gregory Maguire

01/02/2009. Contributed by Laura Kayne

Buy Confessions Of An Ugly Sister in the USA - or Buy Confessions Of An Ugly Sister in the UK

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pub: Headline. 332 page hardback. Price: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7553-4167-2.

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Following his re-telling of 'The Witches Of Oz' in the 'Wicked' series, Gregory Maguire now turns his attention to the story of Cinderella, and in particular, the 'truth' behind the tale of the two ugly stepsisters. Maguire sets his fairytale in seventeenth-century Holland, a land full of wonder, mystery and myth to young Iris and her mentally handicapped sister Ruth who have arrived in the Dutch town of Haarlem from England along with their widowed mother. They soon make the acquaintance of rich, beautiful Clara and her parents and Iris' mother schemes to become housekeeper to the powerful family.

Iris soon becomes friends with the nervous, quiet Clara, who is kept inside the house by her over-protective mother and settles into life in Haarlam. Tragedy strikes, though, when Clara's mother dies in childbirth and it is not too long before Iris' mother steps in to take her place at the head of the family, eager for money, power and position after her hard life in England. As Iris watches her mother's downward spiral into ugly ambition, she strives not to follow her footsteps but can only speak out so often while her sister's health deteriorates. Her step-sister cuts herself off from the rest of the family and begins to spend her time in the kitchen where she eventually earns the nickname Cinders.

As Iris grows up she begins to learn that not everything is what it seems, that there are secrets and hidden agendas behind wealth and power and that fate and fortune can change within the blink of an eye. Iris' stepfather invests in the new and unknown market of tulips but when the ship carrying the flowers is caught in a storm people start selling their shares and the investment becomes worthless. Iris' mother desperately schemes to make more money and when she learns of a royal ball she convinces Iris that she can try to impress a foreign prince as well as anyone else. Still miserable and isolated, Clara refuses to attend the ball and Iris' mother instead promises her to a local businessman in exchange for money. But Iris and Ruth plan for Clara to attend the ball in disguise and the rest is history, myth and fairy tale. But what of the fire at the ball? What of Iris' growing attraction to the prince? And what really happened to Iris' father?

Maguire sets an interesting scene of myth, mystery and history, keeping to the ideals of the Cinderella story whilst at the same time injecting a sense of realism and depth to it, placing it in the real world and exploring what happened 'behind the scenes'. Iris is an engaging and likeable heroine and Clara is both more complex and darker than the original Cinders. Maguire spins an entertaining tale, clever in the way it contains many elements of the original fairy tale but with many twists, turns and back story. It is both clever and fun.

Laura Kayne

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