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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister: A Novel Paperback – Oct 3 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (Oct. 3 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060987529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060987527
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.4 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #122,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Top Customer Reviews

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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By A Customer on July 14 2004
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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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 retelling of the classic Cinderella story. He dissects our preoccupation with physical beauty and its virtuous connotations by taking the well-known fairy tale, standing it on its head, and turning out its pockets. The Truth Behind Appearances, Young Love, and The Value of Artistic Representation all assert and justify themselves like amiably complicated characters through Maguire's deceptively contemporary storyline and his devastating use of the third person omniscient.
Set in 17th-century Holland, Confessions is the story of Margarethe Fisher, her two daughters Iris ("plain as a board") and Ruth ("ungainly and unattractive, a gibbering and stammering" mess), and of Clara (our lovely Cinderella) and the man who paints her (The Master). Tragedy lands Margarethe and her daughters homeless in Holland, but a series of opportunistic finaglings soon finds the family merged with that of Clara's, though still threatened by poverty. Margarethe espies a final opportunity at the upcoming ball and plies the dashingly mundane Prince with the temptation of her "best" daughter. The plan goes wildly astray yet achieves a measure of unpredictable success, and Clara emerges an unlikely Cinderella, armed with a self-awareness and the cachet of intrigue that only a beauty such as hers could possibly have afforded.
Maguire's heartfelt narrative elicits erratic senses of allegiance until a nice twist brings everything stunningly home.
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