on January 11, 2004
I read this as part of a bundle of retold fairy tales, and was insanely confused. This book bears very, very little resemblence to its parent story, "Donkeyskin," and thus, was very distracting to me. I kept looking for parallels to the original story, and didn't find them. The only part that followed, in fact, was the first section, where Lissar's mother dies, and her father declares his intention to marry his daughter. When Lissar refuses, he rapes her and leaves her for dead. The next morning, she flees the castle with the clothes on her back and her faithfun sighthound, Ash.
While I did love the made-up mythology, and the subplot-which-rapidly-became-the-plot about the dogs and the Moonwoman, the repetitive nature of the early parts of the book ("Your mother was the most beautiful woman in the world" repeated five or six times a page for about fifty pages) and Lissar's disconnectedness from the world around her following her assault drove me crazy. Some numbness I would certainly expect from a survivor or a brutal rape, but her inner monologue became tedious in the extreme after a short while. "It is getting cold. It is also getting dark. White stuff is falling out of the sky. What is the white stuff called? Oh, it is called snow. It is falling on this...stuff growing out of my head. I think the word for the stuff that grows out of my head is hair."
Such a person, you'd think, would have lasted approximately ten minutes in the deep woods. But no. She suddenly morphs into an experienced woodswoman, all while maintaining this disconnected demeanor.
On the flip side, though, I do have to give McKinley kudos for...adjusting...some aspects of the original fairy tale that never made sense to me. For example, in the original story, the unnamed Princess, now called Donkeyskin, escapes to the neighboring kingdom and proceeds to make the prince of that land fall madly in love with her. I always though, "What? How many friggin' princesses can there BE in a 50 mile radius? Why doesn't he recognize her?" McKinley handles this by disguising Lissar--AND her dog--so that no one can tell where they came from.
Despite the lyrical, haunting prose, I got the feeling that McKinley tried to be daring by pickig one of the more gruesome fairy tales out there to retell, but then wimped out before going the full monty and telling the full story of the sun, the moon, the stars, and, of course, the donkeyskin.
on May 2, 2003
I have mixed feelings about this book. Most of the reviews that I've read for it have mentioned the metaphorical and vague voice. Indeed, most of the book feels like a dream. Sometimes I had to reread parts to check if they had actually happened or not. In fantasy this can be a good attribute; however, it really got tiring. I am a huge fan of Robin McKinley's, but somehow her style seemed different in this book.
I did not like the sudden interest of Lissar's father in his daughter; because until then he showed absolutely no sign of attraction to her. I wish that McKinley would have delved into it more and given him more of a motivation. I realize that he made a promise to his wife, but certainly that is not enough cause for raping your seventeen-year-old daughter.
There were parts that were very compelling and that sucked you in; however, there were also rather tedious parts to go along. For example, Lissar's physical healing seemed to take ages. I understand that it would have taken a while and McKinley probably wished to convey this... but really, it got to be so detailed that it felt almost arduous. Is it really necessary to know how Lissar used the bathroom?
The biggest problem that I had with this book, ironically for a fantasy novel, is that magic. I love magic in novels, but the magis in Deerskin felt almost contrived. The part with the moon woman, for one, was unbelievably strange, and the tale that accompanied it felt like a rushed excuse for her present. To make matters worse, Lissar eventually turned into the woman. Yet she didn't. Confused? Yes, so was I. In fact, as much as I reread that last scene, I barely caught what was going on.
I blame the last part, also, to the problem that I mentioned before: the vague voice. It was beautifully written, like Shakespeare, yet required much concentration and thought about what exactly was occuring. In a novel with such a gripping plot, one does not have the patience to go back and figure out what happened, because they want to learn what happens next. Perhaps that is why the whole book seemed to be unraveled, and loosely hanging together.
Many complained about the love story, but I found that one of the more enjoyable parts. I guessed from when Ossin sent that puppy that the two would end up together, and I was right. However, even if it was predictable, I still liked it. I especially enjoyed the physical descriptions, because it reminds me of stories like Jane Eyre where the love interest isn't handsome by normal standards, but grows attractive to the girl because she falls in love with him.
Lissar was a sympathetic heroine, but I was often frustrated with her actions. While I can understand why she fled, from a reader's vantage her flight after Ossin proposed was very anti-climactic. I hate to admit it, but I skimmed the next few pages.
What could be called "the final battle" was also a letdown. Somehow, Lissar's confrontation with her father lacked something; even though in the scene she was described as "fiery" and "passionate" in actuality her speech to her father was dry.
I could ramble/rant on some more, but I'll spare everyone and simply sum up my thoughts on the book: It has its redeeming moments, but also many letdowns. However, all in all it is enjoyable, and a different kind of fairy tale for once. Instead of a quest for treasure or to stop an evil sorcerer, this one is to heal the shattered mind and soul of a girl. I immensely enjoyed the psychological aspect, and wish that McKinley would have mainly stuck to that aspect instead of all the strange magic, which honestly just seemed like plot contrivances.
on November 1, 2000
If you want a pretty fairie tale with nothing dark in it, don't read DEERSKIN. However, I would recommend DEERSKIN precisely because it tries to be something more and tackles the sensitive issue of incest and rape. It clearly demonstrates that despite faerie tale surfaces that things can be terribly and horribly wrong and that the things that are amiss might never be noticed because everyone sees what they want to see rather than delving behind and beyond what seems the image of perfection. In some ways, this is an important book for young girls to read because it shows that the faerie tale is not the end all and be all of the story and that heroines can be hurt and survive and heal. I suppose that it is because I read DEERSKIN without any foreknowledge of what it was about and that I expected to read something along the lines of THE BLUE SWORD or THE HERO AND THE CROWN that I was so affected by DEERSKIN, but it is well worth reading and McKinley's pretty prose helps take the reader along the same journey as Lissar, the heroine of the novel.
However, the criticisms that other reviewers have noted do hold true. The novel is superficial and fails to explore the issues raised in the novel with sufficient emotional depth to truly make Lissar a three-dimensional woman. On the other hand, I was caught up in Lissar's struggle and truly felt for her when she confronts her rapist and reveals her story to the kingdom. Another problem with the book is that there are several large parts of the novel that are contrived. For example, I particularly felt that too large a portion of the novel was given over to Lissar and Ossin's mutual affection for dogs and wasn't entirely convinced that Ossin really loved Lissar or was the right person for her except that he's the only eligible prince for Lissar presented in the novel. The contrast between the storybook romance depicted in the first part of the novel and that of the latter half of the novel may be deliberate but comes off as incongruous more than anything else; and the first half of the novel is wonderful at revealing the flaws behind the fairie tale romance in the first half of the novel without dispelling the brilliance of its image. In fact, the latter half of the novel just doesn't seem as well executed or thought out as the first half. Another criticism that was mentioned was that Lissar is a bit too reactive and passive throughout the novel. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that no one can save Lissar from her ordeals except for herself and that a storybook ending is not guaranteed for her - she will have to make that happen for herself on the basis of her own strength.
The novel is full of symbols and isn't geared for realism in the first place. The book isn't meant to be a realistic depiction of Lissar's struggle - if it is, it fails. However, DEERSKIN depicts Lissar's symbolic journey towards healing (albeit aided by the magic of the Moonwoman), and it is in this that McKinley raises DEERSKIN from a flat faerie tale populated with princes and princesses to that of a survivor and heroine.
on May 25, 2000
Previous to writing this review, I read with great interest the raging (and ranging) debate over the merit of the extraordinarily talented Robin McKinley's "Deerskin." And, as others have mentioned before me, the difficulty seems to lie primarily in how the reviewer approaches the novel: as a piece of literature or as a fictionalised chronical of a rape victim's return to the world. As I am, thank God, emininently unable to comment on the verisimilitude of the latter, I shall confine myself to the former, namely "Deerskin's" literary merit - and pray that those who read my review judge it likewise as a poor attempt to sum up *writing* and not *experience.*
Drawing primarily from Perrault's "Donkeyskin," and thereby also from Grimms' "Thousandfurs," McKinley delves into the story of the young, neglected princess, Lissla Lissar, as she grows to womanhood. Her mother, the most beautiful woman in the seven kingdoms, has passed away - but not before extracting from Lissar's father, the king, a promise that he would not marry anyone less beautiful than herself. And who could ever compare to such beauty than her daughter, Lissar. The King, in his madness, declares that he shall wed his own flesh, and, when she (passively) refuses, he rapes her.
This ultimate act of degradation sends Lissar out with her trusty dog Ash (a present from none other than Prince Ossin) to the wilderness to escape her father. She suffers memory loss and miscarriage (obliquely mentioned), and then is healed of her physical wounds by "The Lady," presumably a goddess *long-suffering sigh*. This prompts her to journey to Prince Ossin's lands where a quasi-Cinderella story takes place, with the common interest between the two royalty being fleethounds. Then comes a ball, a proposal, and a fleeing (this time taking the glass slipper, aka six puppies, WITH her), some sort of wandering wherein Lissar acts rather goddess-y herself, and a final, unsatisfactory and strangely described confrontation between the princess and her father.
In its generalities, "Deerskin" is a fair retelling of the original fairy tales. The language is good, if sometimes confusing; the worldbuilding adequate; the characters oddly often faceless. McKinley seems to be attempting to translate some of the original plot elements (such as the three dresses the Princess demands from her father in the beginning) into more plausible realities (i.e., the dresses appear as gifts from Ossin's mother), especially in her introduction of the dogs as the binding element between a Prince and a girl who has lost her memory.
However, as admirable as this effort is, it falls flat. The fleethounds become *too* central, detracting from character development. Rather than demanding dresses like the sun, moon and stars, and then a cloak of deer/donkey/thousandfurs-skin, Lissar skulks around her room as though waiting to be raped, and McKinley introduces the confusing and slightly off-putting deus-ex-machina of "The Lady" aka "Moonwoman," which she attempts to bind up in Lissar's very existance.
The final confrontation with Lissar's father is a stroke of genius, and sadly lacking in either of the original fairy tales (which always felt like two stories smooshed into one). However, the *execution* of this plot twist comes off badly as McKinley attempts to bring together all the *thought* elements (Moonwoman, effects of rape, mother-oppression, burgeoning love) into one dream-like sequence.
The reading moves along very well when McKinley sticks to the basics of the originals - the time in Lissar's father's court is particularly compelling, and the time spent with Ossin not bad - but the middle and penultimate segments when Lissar wanders off to lick her wounds are tedious to read, although they may be an honest record of a broken mind piecing itself together.
Ultimately, "Deerskin" is am abitious and partially successful retelling of a particularly "touchy" fairy tales, and McKinley does an admirable but not quite excellent job with it. Fans of McKinley's other works might be disappointed by the intermediary parts of this book; those considering reading McKinley for the first time would do better to invest in her other works first.
on June 13, 2002
Robin McKinley's book, Deerskin, is not up to her usual standard. It does not have as much appeal and allure as the plots of "The Blue Sword" and "The Hero and the Crown".
The book focuses on Lissar, a beautiful and motherless princess. Her father, the king, rapes and beats her. She then flees into the woods with her dog Ash. She escapes into another city, where she hides among these people.
It was more written as a rape recovery book than as a fantasy; however, it gave a realistic view to Lissar's traumatic experience. McKinley did not seem to make an effort to give depth to Lissar, which made it extremely hard to get into the book. Even through the bad parts, you could still tell it was McKinley's writing. At times it was even interesting. The only thing that made this book into a fantasy was the appearance of a dragon half way through the book and Lissar's many transformations.
All in all, disappointing. Still worth the read, but please also read her other books.
on April 15, 2004
It's the tale of your usual most-beautiful-princess - with a twist. Her father decides to marry her after her mother's death, the tale has a rather graphic assault scene to end Part One, and a weak ending to indicate happy ever after. I found Part One (84 pages) very tiresome and tedious, with the language very 'fairy-tale-like', which is great in a short fairy tale but not so fun in a book. However, I slogged through and found that Part Two was much lovelier and worth the wait. Part Three was good, but not the rousing conclusion that Part Three merited. As much as I like McKinley, and as much as I enjoyed Part Two of the novel, I have to rate it lower since the beginning and end weren't as pleasing
on March 29, 2004
While I wouldn't go so far as to say this book was excellent, I would have no qualms about giving it to children just because of the incest themes. Stories like these can be very helpful to kids who've been molested by a parental figure. Children who are fortunate enough not to have had this experience should still know that it exists, and a folktale is an excellent way to bring it to their attention.
on April 29, 2001
I have always been a fan of stories that retell well-known faerie tales. This one, although the story isn't well-known, is bound to become one to anyone that reads this book. It is vague in parts, but all in all, if you haven't ever read any of Robin McKinley's books, this one will get you hooked!
on April 22, 1999
I searched high and low for another McKinley book. This was disapointing. Wonderful plot, but somwhere during Part Two, the author looses her grip on the reader. Fortunetly, somwhere around Part three, she picks it up agian. I wouldn't recomend this book.