Book info

Beauty (2009)

Beauty (2009)
Rating
3.81 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0553295276 (ISBN13: 9780553295276)
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English
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publisher
bantam spectra
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Beauty (2009)
Beauty (2009)

About book: This book surprised me in a lot of ways. I was expecting a feminist-inflected retelling of "Sleeping Beauty," and while Beauty started out in that vein, it didn't stay there long.Briefly, the story is about the title character --- a half-fairy daughter of a duke in fourteenth-century England --- roaming through time, space and other worlds after the famous sleep-for-a-hundred-years spell is placed on her family's castle. Among the places she goes are the present day (well, the 1990s), the End of the World (a dystopian future society where every square inch of the Earth is covered by huge, cramped, hive-like apartment complexes or the vast stretches of farmland needed to feed all those people), and Faery. Along the way, she and her descendants play parts in six different fairy tales: "Sleeping Beauty," as previously mentioned, "Cinderella" (Beauty's daughter, Elly), "Snow White" (granddaughter), "The Frog Prince," "Rapunzel" (great-grandson) and "Tam Lin" (Beauty plays a minor role).Besides all this, which would be enough (besides tying all the stories together in interesting ways, Tepper also provides a thoughtful look at the complex relations between mothers and daughters who don't really know each other that well), there's also a powerful environmentalist pseudo-allegory going on. Beauty is more than just half-fairy: she also incarnates beauty itself (and magic, and life, and lots of other stuff --- Tepper conflates it all under the heading "beauty," which she considers indispensible. The horrible vision of the future that we, and Beauty, see is Tepper's idea of a world without beauty). There is also an interesting riff on the Garden of Eden myth, and the relation of fairies and humans. They need each other, but don't realize it --- the fairies, while they like to steal the occasional human child, find humans disgusting and animallike, and the humans casually destroy the wild woodlands and meadows where fairies live. Yet, without the creative principle that humans have, the fairies will slowly fade into nothingness, while the humans, without the fairies' long collective memory and respect for the natural order, will destroy their only home.Overall, it's like "Fractured Fairy Tales" mated with Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe.I thought this was a really wonderful, thought-provoking book, packed full of a lot more things than I would have thought possible for one novel. To introduce so many ideas, and at the same time create complicated characters who grow and change, and render so many different worlds, each with their own internal logic, is an amazing trick.

Beauty is half-fairy and carries a fairy curse: on her sixteenth birthday, she'll prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years. But Beauty is careful and practical, if not always brilliantly smart, and she avoids the curse, which falls on her friend Beloved instead. With everyone she's ever known asleep in the castle, she leaves--and is caught by time travelers documenting the decline of magic and swept into the twenty-first century, where everything is terrible.Tepper has a way of writing deeply political novels with sympathetic characters and plots that make sense (unlike some other writers whose primary purpose is political but I won't go into that right now). The themes of Beauty are evident throughout: environmentalism, primarily, but also feminism and religion. It is telling that the people she places in Hell near the end of the book are those who destroyed the environment for the sake of destroying the environment; those who perpetrated violence against others, especially women; and horror writers/screenwriters/filmmakers/etc. And yet the novel is also a poignant examination of growing up and growing old, deep friendships and romantic relationships, and a love for one's home country and the planet at large.Beauty is, in my opinion, one of Tepper's stronger works (standing with The Gate to Women's Country and Gibbon's Decline and Fall), partially because it's one that didn't go entirely over my head. (I'm in the middle of a massive Tepper re-read to try to understand the ones I didn't get when I was younger.) It is also one of the few that doesn't end with sadness and ugliness, but with a sense of hope and a plea to consider the future of the planet.
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Britain
I loved the idea behind this book--all these fairy tales/epics woven together into a single character's lifetime, seeing the people that became the legends and how those stories began, fables and reality woven together into one narrative. And Tepper obviously did a sh!t-ton of research into Celtic and other mythologies to give those tales incredible depth and substance. Nevertheless, I can't in good conscience recommend this book. I wanted to love it, and I did love parts of it, but her soapboxing was seriously annoying; while I agree with everything she was saying, I just don't enjoy being beaten over the head with an author's personal agenda--at least, not while I'm in the middle of trying to read a damn book. It continually interrupted the story (and my interest). The jumping around through time and between the real world and faery and hell and various imaginary worlds was also extremely disorienting. Maybe I could've sustained my interest well enough to follow all those leaps if I hadn't been so annoyed at the repeated plot derailings? We'll never know. This was my first and last attempt at reading Sheri Tepper.
Columbine
Part speculative fiction, part philosophy, part patchwork cosmology, Beauty is - intense. It chronicles the life of someone who starts out as a mistrusted halfbreed in an age that values genealogy, and who progresses through multiple worlds, back and forth in time, being entirely too curious about what makes her situation unique. Tepper manages to write realistic Sidhe and believable Bogles, despite the unlikelihood of her audience having any basis for comparison.The protagonist, named Beauty (except when circumstances recommend other names), is credible to the bone, from starry-eyed 15-year-old girl through exhausted old woman. She is neither painfully virtuous nor improbably wise, but neither is she venal or foolish. Her matter-of-fact approach to time travel and the loss of entire worlds is entirely human, but hints at strength and perspective that might be not so much the legacy of her Sidhe ancestry, but rather a rebellion against Sidhe insubstantiality.Expect, perhaps not to weep, but to ache for the inevitable loss. Expect to recognize people you know. Expect to think, wonder, and have weird dreams, and to want to stay up drinking and talking with your best friend. And if you write or draw or sculpt, you might end up doing a bit of that too. This book is a door that only goes one way, but you won't regret entering.
Delicious Strawberry
This has to be one of Ms. Tepper's better works. In too many of her books, we usually see some kind of weird deus ex machina or whatever thrown in (Family Tree, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, the Visitor) so I am pleased to say that this story is more coherent than these.Anyone familiar with Ms. Tepper should not be surprised at her inclusion of commentaries against this or that - Ms. Tepper is quite the feminist, and snarks against religion, violence, patriarchy, the abuse of the environment/natural resources and so on and so forth. She paints a rather grim picture of the future, a future where by the end of the 21st century, the people of the earth have pretty much screwed themselves - just about everything else besides humans are extinct, and everyone has to eat this crap called Fidipur, which is the only thing to eat, and the world is overcrowded. Ms. Tepper doesn't seem to have an optimistic view of our future (The Companions, for example) but given the current state of the world, I can see why.But a good part of this story is set in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and contains quite a bit of history. The character of Beauty is likeable. She's not SMART, but she is practical, and this in itself is pretty smart. She learns a lot when she travels to the 20th and 21st century. It's fun how other fairy tales have been woven into here with tweaks and the like to make them more realistic and adult. She is mother to Cinderella, grandmother to Snow White, and great-grandmother to the Frog Prince. Sounds crazy - but it actually works!Faery is also wonderfully described and illustrated, as Ms. Tepper has a way with her pen that enables her to describe things wonderfully. This is definitely a good book, and thought-provoking, and wonderfully imaginative.
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