As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

November 14, 2010

BEAUTY by Robin McKinley, 1978

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the BeastThis much-loved retelling of the classic French tale Beauty and the Beast elicits the familiar magical charm, but is more believable and complex than the traditional story. In this version, Beauty is not as beautiful as her older sisters, who are both lovely and kind. Here, in fact, Beauty has no confidence in her appearance but takes pride in her own intelligence, her love of learning and books, and her talent in riding. She is the most competent of the three sisters, which proves essential when they are forced to retire to the country because of their father's financial ruin. The plot follows that of the renowned legend: Beauty selflessly agrees to inhabit the Beast's castle to spare her father's life. Beauty's gradual acceptance of the Beast and the couple's deepening trust and affection are amplified in novel form. Robin McKinley's writing has the flavor of another century, and Beauty heightens the authenticity as a reliable and competent narrator.
It was inevitable: we've gotten two reviews for the same book simultaneously!  But rather than turning one of them down, we decided to let not one, but two people tell you how much they loved this book!

Our first reviewer is Emily Sonderegger, Book Lover and Bon Vivant, and the second review comes from our own Jessica Day George, Reader, Writer, Raconteur!

Emily?  Tell us all about it!
I loved the beautiful simplicity of this story.  Robin McKinley didn't feel the need to get all weird with it and do lots of things that should never be done to classic stories. She just retold it in a powerful and moving way. Her characters LIVED and I felt immediate sympathy for them. I never liked how the sisters were pretty well rotten and the most selfish people in the original version, so I appreciated McKinley's twist on them. They were a lot more real to me this way. See, I've never really understood how people could actually *BE* that way, though I know it happens. I just don't know any of them. These sisters seemed a lot more real to me, based on my worldview.

I loved that Beauty didn't feel worthy of her nickname, even though she fit it nicely by the end. She kind of had to grow into it, which mirrors real life in my experience. I've always had kind of a hard time with heroines who are beautiful, poised, accomplished, and whatnot right from the beginning. Beauty had many wonderful qualities, but she wasn't the whole package right up front. That made me like her from the beginning. Even at the end, she still was shocked at what she saw in the mirror. She never took it as her due.

The setting was beautiful, and took me straight to Provincial France. I could smell the fields, see the woods, and feel the Provence breezes. I love when a story comes to life like that. The dialogue was appropriate to the time period and the region and the people behaved exactly as I'd have expected them to in that area of France.

Really, I could go on and on about this book and how much I liked it.  It definitely goes on the read over and over shelf.

And now Jessica, it's your turn!

This is a gorgeous book, so rich in description that I could smell the roses winding over the little cottage at the edge of the wood. McKinley’s writing is evocative without being overly flowery (pardon the pun). Her simple yet flowing style makes you feel as though Beauty is speaking directly to you, the reader, telling you her story. But she’s more than telling you. From the first paragraph you are drawn directly into the book. You know and understand Beauty, whose real name is Honour and who feels that her childhood nickname is becoming increasingly embarrassing as she becomes an gawky, less-than-beautiful young woman. Her sisters, Grace and Hope, truly are beautiful but more than that: kind and devoted to each other, Beauty, and their doting and careworn father.

McKinley first shows you the merchant’s house, emptied of furnishings by their loss of fortune. I will never forget the image of the sisters creeping through the house after the sale of nearly everything to pay their debts, holding each other tenderly and crying out at the discovery of each missing painting, each treasured piece of their lives now gone. Then comes a cottage, which soon will be encased in enormous roses as Beauty trades the adventure of living in the country as a poor man’s daughter to living in an enormous castle as the companion of a beast, all of these settings magnificent and real.

And what a castle! And what a beast! The moment I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, I remember telling my parents that they had stolen things from the McKinley book. There were no talking clocks or wardrobes, but in the book there are mysterious invisible servants, a giant library that contains all the books that were ever written—and some that haven’t been written yet. The friendship and burgeoning romance is handled at the perfect pace. You see them earn each other’s trust, then respect, then more, without tapping your foot with impatience, wondering when they will get on with it! And at the end you aren’t left thinking, “Now they’re in love? That was quick.”

Again and again, it’s the imagery that makes me swoon. The rattle of rose seeds pouring out of a wooden box. Velvet and silk gowns being pulled from saddlebags that couldn’t possibly hold more than a spare shirt. And Beauty being swarmed by the invisible servants and forced into a beautiful gown that gleams like a star—and has barely enough bodice to deserve the name! When she lets her hair down and it brushes against her skin, I could feel it . . . And that’s when I knew, truly knew, that I loved this book, and that I would read and reread this book until the cover disintegrated.

And I have!

Market: Young Adult
Language: None
Sensuality: None
Violence: Mild
Mature Themes: Uprooting, business failure, separation

Book Formats:
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (paperback)

To learn more about the author, visit: Robin McKinley


pie said...

I love Robin McKinley's books. (I think I like her second retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Rose Daughter, even more than Beauty.)

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I first read this book a few years ago when I was pregnant. It has remained poignant and beautiful in my mind. I can't wait to check out more of her work!

Amoniel said...

Awww, I love this book :) I've read it at least 4 times <3

Kim said...

This is one of the books that really got me hooked as a reader! I identified so much with Honour/Beauty, with two beautiful older sisters!

Danielle said...

I'm so glad this was reccomeded! Otherwise I never would have read it (and how sad is that???) I love fairytale retelling and this one was just amazing. I've been trolling my library's catalog looking for more of Robin McKinley's work. Thanks again!