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Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister [Paperback]

Gregory Maguire
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 21 2000

Is this new land a place where magics really happen?

From Gregory Maguire, the acclaimed author of Wicked, comes his much-anticipated second novel, a brilliant and provocative retelling of the timeless Cinderella tale.

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings.... When we grow up, we learn that it's far more common for human beings to turn into rats....

We all have heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes.But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty . . . and what curses accompanied Cinderella's exquisite looks?

Extreme beauty is an affliction

Set against the rich backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition.Iris's path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister.

Clara was the prettiest child, but was her life the prettiest tale?

While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, burning all memories of her past, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household--and the treacherous truth of her former life.

God and Satan snarling at each other like dogs.... Imps and fairy godmotbers trying to undo each other's work.How we try to pin the world between opposite extremes!

Far more than a mere fairy-tale, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a novel of beauty and betrayal, illusion and understanding, reminding us that deception can be unearthed--and love unveiled--in the most unexpected of places.


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From Amazon

Gregory Maguire's chilling, wonderful retelling of Cinderella is a study in contrasts. Love and hate, beauty and ugliness, cruelty and charity--each idea is stripped of its ethical trappings, smashed up against its opposite number, and laid bare for our examination. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister begins in 17th-century Holland, where the two Fisher sisters and their mother have fled to escape a hostile England. Maguire's characters are at once more human and more fanciful than their fairy-tale originals. Plain but smart Iris and her sister, Ruth, a hulking simpleton, are dazed and terrified as their mother, Margarethe, urges them into the strange Dutch streets. Within days, purposeful Margarethe has secured the family a place in the home of an aspiring painter, where for a short time, they find happiness.

But this is Cinderella, after all, and tragedy is inevitable. When a wealthy tulip speculator commissions the painter to capture his blindingly lovely daughter, Clara, on canvas, Margarethe jumps at the chance to better their lot. "Give me room to cast my eel spear, and let follow what may," she crows, and the Fisher family abandons the artist for the upper-crust Van den Meers.

When Van den Meer's wife dies during childbirth, the stage is set for Margarethe to take over the household and for Clara to adopt the role of "Cinderling" in order to survive. What follows is a changeling adventure, and of course a ball, a handsome prince, a lost slipper, and what might even be a fairy godmother. In a single magic night, the exquisite and the ugly swirl around in a heated mix:

Everything about this moment hovers, trembles, all their sweet, unreasonable hopes on view before anything has had the chance to go wrong. A stepsister spins on black and white tiles, in glass slippers and a gold gown, and two stepsisters watch with unrelieved admiration. The light pours in, strengthening in its golden hue as the sun sinks and the evening approaches. Clara is as otherworldly as the Donkeywoman, the Girl-Boy. Extreme beauty is an affliction...
But beyond these familiar elements, Maguire's second novel becomes something else altogether--a morality play, a psychological study, a feminist manifesto, or perhaps a plain explanation of what it is to be human. Villains turn out to be heroes, and heroes disappoint. The story's narrator wryly observes, "In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings. When we grow up, we learn that it's far more common for human beings to turn into rats." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The inspired concept of Maguire's praised debut, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was not a fluke. Here he presents an equally beguiling reconstruction of the Cinderella story, set in the 17th century, in which the protagonist is not the beautiful princess-to-be but her plain stepsister. Iris Fisher is an intelligent young woman struggling with poverty and plain looks. She, her mother, Margarethe, and her retarded sister, Ruth, flee their English country village in the wake of her father's violent death, hoping to find welcome in Margarethe's native Holland. But the practical Dutch are fighting the plague and have no sympathy for the needy family. Finally, a portrait painter agrees to hire them as servants, specifying that Iris will be his model. Iris is heartbroken the first time she sees her likeness on canvas, but she begins to understand the function of art. She gains a wider vision of the world when a wealthy merchant named van den Meer becomes the artist's patron, and employs the Fishers to deal with his demanding wife and beautiful but difficult daughter, Clara. Margarethe eventually marries van den Meer, making Clara Iris's stepsister. As her family's hardships ease, Iris begins to long for things inappropriate for a homely girl of her station, like love and beautiful objects. She finds solace and identity as she begins to study painting. Maguire's sophisticated storytelling refreshingly reimagines age-old themes and folklore-familiar characters. Shrewd, pushy, desperate Margarethe is one of his best creations, while his prose is an inventive blend of historically accurate but zesty dialogue and lyrical passages about saving power of art. The narrative is both "magical," as in fairy tales, and anchored in the reality of the 17th century, an astute balance of the ideal and sordid sides of human nature in a vision that fantasy lovers will find hard to resist. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of the Long, Winding Road of Life Aug. 9 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a really interesting take on Cinderella, not least because of the setting in Holland during the tulip crash. I enjoyed it very much, although I found it moved a little slower than Wicked in the beginning. Iris's insights into those around her and reading through her lens was increasingly interesting as the story developed. There may not really be any wicked stepsisters here, but the Iris's mother is surely both a hate-able and pitiable person who justifies all her actions by claiming it's all for her girls. She isn't quite a witch, but it is difficult to say whether any of her qualities are even remotely redeeming. The ending left me mildly unfulfilled but I really did like the final input from Ruth.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Finally! A Different Side of the Coin! July 16 2004
Format:Paperback
First things first, I'm not usually one for the hero of a story; I usually more side with the villians. I've just found the 'bad guys' to be more interesting.
Second thing, for the most part, I am strong strongly AGAINST the whole Cinderella story, espeically the Disney version; I don't like the unconsiouse images that it represents, but this isn't where we discuss them.
I read "Confessions" in a single day; in all honestly, I was enthrolled by the book because it was a different side of the coin. It took a different spin on the story and gave life to the stepsisters, and especially Iris. Gregory Mcguire made Irish real; some you could rally behind, some one you could have sympathy for; an underdog.
I really liked this book, and if you want a different take, and aren't completely obsessed with the cleaned-up version Disney Cinderella, give this book a look through.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a different "Cinderella" Jan. 10 2001
Format:Paperback
First of all, "Confessions" is a very, very different version of the Cinderella story. For one, Clara, our Cinderella, is not the kind, gentle, hardworking girl the fairy tale has. She is spoiled, stubborn, and timid. The evil stepsisters are not evil; Iris, our main character, is plain, but smart and has an eye for art, and Ruth, the older stepsister, cannot take care of herself, cannot speak, but does have a good heart. Margarethe, the stepmother, is not nessecarily evil, but ambitious. She will do anything and everything to ensure that her family has enough food, but it is her own greed that brings the downfall of their family.
That said, "Confessions" is good, but if you have a very strong version of the Cinderella tale, I wouldn't recommend it that much. This could have actually happened; and the book is vivid with detail; the poor souls the Master paints, the tulips, the day the river freezes over . . . everything.
It has the same basic plot as Cinderella: a mother and her two daughters marry a wealthy man who has an unearthly beauty for a daughter. Only, Clara is not forced to work; she retreats to the kitchen and ashes to hide from Margarethe, and even gives herself the name Cinderella. Iris struggles to help Clara, and still be loyal to her mother and Ruth, but an offer to be the apprentice to the Master, a painter, is too good to resist. When the night of the ball does arrive, Clara is convinced to go, though she does so reluctantly. At first, Iris and the prince hit it off, and then enter Clara. Prince and Clara disappear into another room, where they remain for the remainder of the evening. Do the prince and Clara fall in love? Is there a glass slipper? Is Clara really a changling? Is there more to Ruth than what meets the eye? What secrets lie in the past.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of the Trio July 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I do not include LOST in the category of Maguire's best novels, since it is not like the other three. Having read all, however, I'd have to say COAUS was my favorite.
I think if you read this book, you'd either love it or hate it. My mom tried reading it and couldn't get past the prologue. I read it, and bawled my eyes out in the epilogue.
It was a bit slow, but that's the style of his books. From what I gather, you're supposed to savour every word and detail.
Iris is incredibly likeable, as is her older sister (don't remember the name).
I loved both the novel and stage adaptation of Wicked, and didn't think anything could beat it, but COAUS is my favorite book. Mirror Mirror was also thrilling, but there really wasn't much read there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted and moving June 21 2004
By R. Wren
Format:Paperback
I never write reviews on here, but I just finished this book and I have to say it was one of the best books I have read in a long time. I will never look at Cinderella the same way again. This book doesn't just retell the story from another point of view, it does so by creating characters you connect with and pulling you into the story so much that you forget it's the same old fairy tale. I admit it's a little slow in the beginning, and it took me a few chapters to get totally into it, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. I expected this to be one of those stories where the Stepsister tells her side of the story, putting all the blame on Cinderella, but what I found was a truly moving story where there isn't a real villain, just three sisters who are all products of a dysfunctional family.
I seriously reccomend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I learned of Gregory Maguire when a friend recommended Wicked (which is fantabulous, by the way) and when I ordered Wicked, I orders Confessions... too. I read it in three days; I simply could not put it down. To those of you who feel strongly about the origional Cinderella story, you may not want to read this, but it does give a fabulous new point of view and twist on an old, worn story. I have been rather bored of late with the origional story, and after reading Wicked, (and of course the title of the book) I knew what the story would be covering - the side of the innocent stepsisters of Clara - Cinderella. The story is powerfully written and I felt every emotion with Iris, the main character. This is a truly wonderful story that would be a shame to pass up.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Parts Fun
"The Ugly Stepsister" is an amazingly fun retelling of the "Cinderella" story. Taking a lesson from the wildly awesome "Wicked" (a retelling of the... Read more
Published on July 10 2005 by Wes Kidd
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Miss It!
Following in the steps of his first novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," Maguire continues to plumb his promising literary vein with this... Read more
Published on June 28 2005 by Patricia Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Miss It!
Following in the steps of his first novel, "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," Maguire continues to plumb his promising literary vein with this... Read more
Published on May 7 2005 by Patricia Davis
2.0 out of 5 stars Wicked it is not
This story had a lot of promise, a great beginning, a tolerable middle, and a complete let down of an ending in which Cinderella becomes a harlot in a back salon and then produces... Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by Michelle Owen West
4.0 out of 5 stars Stretched a little thin
I bought Confessions after reading and enjoying Maguire's Wicked. In Confessions Maguire weaves a tale of how the ugly stepsisters come to be in the situation of the common fable. Read more
Published on July 9 2004 by The Old Philosopher
2.0 out of 5 stars Addicted to Fairy tales
I admit, I have been completely in love with fairy tales since I started listening/reading. As i have matured, I have taken this on to the next level; exploring modern day... Read more
Published on June 17 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought it was interested and very imaginative. It was a great spin on the classic fairy tale.
Published on June 2 2004 by Nichole Luginbill
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible
I couldn't stand this book. I couldn't even make it through the first half without giving up and tossing the book aside. Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by C. Cates
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