Review: ‘The Charmed Wife’ by Olga Grushin

All I want is to be free – free of him, free of my past, free of my story.
Free of myself, the way I was when I was with him.

Rating:

5/5 paper planes

What’s This Book About?

Genre: Fantasy (fairytale retellings); feminism; postmodern literature
Publication: 21 Jan 2021
Pages: 288 (hardcover)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Cinderella married the man of her dreams – the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen-and-a-half years later, things have gone badly wrong.

One night, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn’t ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Content warnings (highlight to see): addiction; violence and murder; domestic abuse; sexual references; swearing

What I Thought:

This book slid off in a completely different direction to what I was expecting, and I loved it anyway (maybe even more?). I went in thinking it would be a subversive fairytale retelling – I got that and a lot more.

There are so many layers to this book. Stories within stories within stories. The central character is ‘Cinderella’, but we also have minor threads that her own storyline grazes, crosses or tangles up with in this great big tapestry of the Fairytale World. Bluebeard and Sleeping Beauty are just two that come to mind. There are so many overlapping stories that it’s almost dizzying – which perfectly matches the strange, dream-like state of wandering into a forest and bumping into folktale after folktale making up this fairytale web.

merida following the wisp in brave
Merida (‘Brave’) following the will o’the wisp into the forest

The transition from the fairytale universe to modern day New York City was utterly seamless and downright sneaky! I’m still in shock at how it was done and so impressed. Especially when an important fact comes up near the end, relating to Cinderella’s childhood.

I absolutely loved how self-aware and subversive this was, especially when you look back at bits of Cinderella’s fairytale life from the lens of her present-day hindsight in NYC. Cinderella is a very unreliable narrator so PREPARE TO BE CONFUSED –

confused jin BTS gif
Confused gif (Jin from BTS)

– YET ALSO MARVEL at how Grushin’s almost indecently long sentences (like seriously, a LOT of commas) evoke precisely the sense of confusion, tension and simmering discomfort and anxiety felt by Cinderella herself. A woman overwhelmed by the reality of her unhappy marriage and a music box of a world.

ballerina music box gif
Ballerina in a music box, twirling, twirling, twirling…

This is more of a character-driven book with a lot of flashbacks and introspection. Speaking of flashbacks, I think at least half of the exposition is actually in the way of Cinderella recalling her past leading up to the knife’s edge moment where she deliberates killing Prince Roland (her husband). Character-wise, I liked that no one felt 2D good or evil – everyone was nuanced, including the far-from-innocent Cinderella and the husband she’s demonised in her head. The plot was certainly still interesting – especially when reading the side-fairytales – but if we’re talking plot, it’s the parallel story of Cinderella’s mice that really shines. It was highly entertaining and surprisingly diverse (sapphic mice of the world, unite!), as well as being a clever way of adding extra depth and context to the world-building. It was especially effective when we started slipping into the modern world/era.

That night, when I go to bed, I dream of being a witch. I dream of being a sleeping beauty. I dream of being a gingerbread house. I dream of being a prince. I dream of being a falling star, a rushing wind, a rustling forest.

All in all, a surprising and thought-provoking (and somewhat mind-bending) read that I’d recommend for fans of fairytales and folklore! A word of caution to younger readers though, as it does occasionally get somewhat graphic in relation to sex and violence.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the eARC for an honest review.

Thanks for reading! Have you read ‘The Charmed Wife’ or Grushin’s other books? What fairytale retellings would you recommend? Which are on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s