6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2009
This is an excellent read - haunting, involving and rather touching. It is a modern rewriting of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name - in which a child is preyed upon by a wicked step mother who eventually dies when a bird drops a millstone on her head. Barbara Comyns uses this grisley tale but she totally subverts it - the step mother is not an evil pastiche but a sympathetic character - very close to the reader. Whereas in the Brothers Grimm tale, the step mother is an "anti family" figure, in this new version she is our heroine and it is she who is being exploited and suffering a lack of care at the hands of the family. In many ways the book could easily be read as a femenist "answer" to the original yarn.
In addition to this it is a fast moving, pacy and highly accomplished novel. The use of literary references and the "dreamlike" feel of the story feels very much like an Angela Carter work - it is the best sort of magical realism - bringing the reader into a marvellous world where the most unlikely things seem to happen easily. The characters are extremely well developed - and this is another sense in which Barbara Comyns is subverting the fairy story genre - there are characters who are cruel and characters who are kind - but nobody is a one dimensional "fiend". All of her characters are real people, warts and histories and all. Comyns builds up empathy for the heroine particuarly well and as the final dramatic scenes unfold the reader will be utterly desperate for her to survive.
There is no need to have read the Brothers Grimm tale in order to appreciate this novel - it could be read on its own and still enjoyed for the quality of the writing and the fine structure of the story. However, it probably makes the reading of "The Juniper Tree" a richer experience if the read at least knows the story of the original tale.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2013
I discovered Barbara Comyns in the 1980s and read this book soon after publication. her writing style appears naive till you realize she hides so much behind her details. This fabulous book centers on poor downtrodden, scarred Bella, emotionally and physically scarred,apparently being rescued Byatt stunning prince and princess ,to end up being more abused before a positive ending. None of the characters are black or white though,- though personally I do dislike Bernard- but all very human. Lots of symbolism, but a fab, book and an incredibly underrated site. Buy it,mead I, you'll love ot!