Allegories are generally considered to be pictures, stories, poems or dances that serve to illustrate or symbolize moral or political issues or ideas. I can't come up with a better allegory for a person contemplating transgender surgery than this tale of a raven trapped in a human girl's body. Confused parents, a yearning to be the creation she was meant to be, actual explicit surgery, and consequences all serve to highlight this central message. We even have a surgeon who pushes the outer boundaries, a stranger who disapproves of Raven Girl's decision and tries to frustrate it, punishments and happy and unhappy consequences. This isn't even thinly veiled allegory, (how many plastic surgeons have appeared in other fairy tales?), and calling it a fable is just moving it into a slightly different category, but with the same effect.
And that's all fine by me. You may agree or disagree with its politics and morality; you may wonder about who exactly the intended reader of this is, but it seems to me that you have to admire the author's audacity and willingness to take an artistic risk. As with all of Niffenegger's work there are questions about how serious she is and what her ultimate point, if any, is, but that doesn't really make the book less interesting.
So, while not exactly transgressive and while not driving deeply into forbidden territory, this is thought provoking, accomplished and stimulating guerrilla tale telling. Strikes me as worth a look.
Niffenegger's art and writing come together to create a mythic story about a postman who goes to deliver a letter to a nest and finds a raven chick. Panels of text are interspersed with full page panels of Niffenegger's drawings, much in the style of a fairy story.
The postman takes the chick home and she grows and fledges but always stays close to him. In time they fall in love and have a child, hatched from an egg but human in appearance. Raven Girl cannot speak, only caw, and is more interested in raven stuff than child stuff but she is bright and intelligent. As Raven Girl grows she realises she wants to be more raven and sets out to try and find a way to have wings and fly.
I was touched by this story, it's full of metaphor about flight / inspiration / freedom and as with all fairy stories you need a little suspension of disbelief. The metamorphosis elements of all the best stories are there, a touch of the myth of Leda and the deep human need to find a place where we belong. Niffenegger's drawings are just lovely, beautifully observed and her use of muted colours with a few significant patches of red complements and tells the story along with the text.
on 8 June 2013
Written in the style of traditional fairy stories, this time as a starting point for Wayne McGregor to build a ballet.
All the right ingredients, love in an unlikely match, sometimes dark, metamorphosis, a prince.....all illustrated with Ms Neffenegger's own aquatints.
on 29 September 2013
When I read about Audrey Niffenegger`s Raven Girl project on Goodreads, I was fascinated and ordered the book. Here was an author/illustrator who worked hand in hand with a choreographer, Wayne McGreggor of the Royal Ballet in London, to create a book and a ballet. There's a distinct appeal to linking across art forms in a quest for new ground. The story idea was fascinating, too: a postman falls in love with a raven and they have a girl together, who, when she grows up, longs to be a raven and fly. From the word go, it smacks of tragedy and possibly unrequited love.
The book itself, when it arrived by the post, was particularly attractive, with its clever jacket design, by Audrey Niffenegger, signifying simultaneously the girl and the raven as one. In addition, the red of the hardback cover peeking out from below the jacket matched the red lines of the girl and the gold tinted edges to the pages promised richness.
My first disappointment came when I opened the book and discovered it was a long story told short. I had expected a novel and I got a fairy tale. I suppose it is unfair to judge a book not on itself but on my expectations of it, as a reader. All the same, it was frustrating to have to sail over a multitude of story avenues that begged to be explored and developed. The story had so much potential that remained unused.
I know little of the fairy-tale genre, so I can't judge if the frequent jumps in narrative were due to a "fairy-tale" license that allowed the author to leave gapping, often inexplicable, holes in the story. Whether that is normal or not, it disturbed me. In particular, the way the story abruptly came to a close leaving me feeling short-changed.
Review originally published on Secret Paths: http://about-books.secret-paths.com/?p=249
on 7 June 2013
I loved the illustrations, the story is very odd, in the tradition of a fairytale but modernised to include themes such as metamorphosis through plastic surgery. It's quite dark and not really for children, but worth owning as a lovely book to look at. See the ballet it inspired if you can- it's incredible.
on 6 July 2015
Raven Girl is a graphic novel by the author best known for the fantastic book The Time Traveller's Wife. It tells the story of a man and a raven who fall in love and have a daughter, she looks like a girl, but inside she is a raven, and is stuck in a sort of hole where she can never truly be either.
Raven Girl is a strange little story, right from the premise really. It's sort of a sweet story though, and you could almost swap the Raven Girl for anyone trying to fit in, or anyone stuck between two cultures. You can see the style of Niffenegger's writing which you recognise from her novels- it's style is probably closer to Her Fearful Symmetry than to The Time Traveller's Wife- although the story itself is much more simple.
The art work (also created by Niffenegger) fits the story well. It's a bit mismatched, a bit strange, but still quite pretty. I'm sure Niffeneger designed the pictures to be like this as her other graphic novel which I have read, The Night Bookmobile, has much more realistic pictures.
It's the sort of book you want to possess as much as read, like a piece of artwork.
on 3 June 2013
The book was written as the basis for a ballet. In the same way that the most famous classical ballets are based on impossible fairy tales, the story in this book is an impossible fairy tale.
In the tale, a postman mates with a raven, who lays an egg. A baby girl comes forth from the egg and she develops in the same way as any other human female but with light hollow bones. She then encounters a doctor who is able to replace her arms with wings. This is a fairy tale suitable for children, so nothing whatsoever is made of the mating or of how the girl manages without arms. The only moral issue raised is the replacement of the girl's arms with wings. In the end the girl becomes united with the raven prince.
The book is probably necessary reading for those with tickets for the ballet. It is an easy read.
As an object, the book is a pleasure to handle and read. It is nicely laid out and illustrated with childlike etchings. The page quality is high. The edges of the pages are blocked in a very dark shimmering colour. The dust jacket stays in place when the book is read. The book is probably the nicest book to handle that I own.
However, the story is quite short, there are few words on a page and the book can be read completely in a couple of hours, so you don't get much story for your money.
Grimms fairy tales have a moral, Christian, basis. The prince, for example, represents the saviour. However, I found difficulty in discerning any moral meaning in this book, other than the point that there is part of our nature that cannot be changed.
on 20 October 2013
Best known for her novel The Time Traveler's Wife, a book I've never, nor ever will, read, I'm familiar with Audrey Niffenegger's "illustrated novels", all of which I've read. The latest, Raven Girl, is a modern fairy tale conceived for a dance production, and is also the least interesting of the four illustrated novels.
A postman and a giant raven produce a human girl who wishes she was a raven. When she grows up and enters university, she meets a visiting biology professor who reluctantly agrees to graft wings onto her and does. Raven Girl flies - the end. It's Hans Christian Anderson meets Dr Moreau!
This is a fairy tale so I'm not going to critique the setup, but I will say that it's not a very imaginative fairy tale. It basically follows the archetypical metamorphosis trope found in nearly every fairy tale - frogs turning into princes, princesses turning into swans, and so on and so forth. In this book, a girl turns into a raven. Yeah - and?
Art-wise, Niffenegger paints and draws in the same style as she did in her last couple of books but with much less visual flair - The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress both had much more eye-catching and memorable art than the few drab illustrations in Raven Girl. The book is really well produced though - glossy, high quality pages are used and the book feels and looks well-made.
I can't pan the book entirely because it's designed for a dance production and there's only so much you can put into a story that would work within a dance show, so it needs to be necessarily simplistic. That said, reading it isn't much fun and it's story is all too forgettable. Maybe as a dance it's great - I'll probably never see it - but as an "illustrated novel"? Nope.
Raven Girl is the 4th graphic novel by American artist and author, Audrey Niffenegger. It was written/drawn as the beginning point for a new dance for the Royal Ballet in London. The story starts with a Postman who falls in love with a Raven. They have a child, the Raven Girl who wants to fly but cannot, until she encounters a man who can make it happen. This is a fairy tale with plenty of traditional elements (unusual unions, talking cats, a Prince, a happily-ever-after ending) but also some modern elements (nightmares about email, a plastic surgeon, a university education, literal empty-nesters and a laboratory). There is more text and less illustration than in Niffenegger’s earlier work, The Night Bookmobile, and the illustrations are perhaps of a lesser quality, but this is, nonetheless, an enchanting tale.
on 30 July 2013
"Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven." So starts this tale of an unusual, but not a forbidden, love. The love story ambles along and develops, which is a surprise in itself. Then along comes a half-raven girl child with the mind and desires of a raven trapped in a girl's body. This girl is called simply "Raven Girl," and we study biology along with her.
A visiting professor, "The Doctor," who "looked fairy ordinary," was however, capable of miraculous transformations in his laboratory. It is during her biology lesson that the modern world properly intervenes with stem cells and operations. Raven Girl asks for an operation to give her a raven's wings so that she may fly. The Doctor replies to her wish quite honestly, "I don't know if I can do this ... Most of the things I do for people are aesthetic, not functional." The book is itself beautifully presented - the drawings are haunting.
There are some ups and downs as are expected in a fairy tale, but not in a direction the reader would necessarily expect. There is originality shown. Is there a fable in here? Is this a morality tale? If so, it might be about mixed-gender individuals who identify with one gender while their body conveys the other more strongly. That is only one postulation. My gripe would be that there isn't the sense that the highly-read author is giving a message. The words "fairly tale" are included in the book flap, which conveys the authorial intention to this reader. Isn't the whole point of a fairy tale to leave a message that lingers with the reader? That is what the time immemorial fables do. The lack is the reason for this score.