IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS:
Children take mothers to dark places. This book of twisted fairy tales will help you see the light.
Who’s it for:
Tasmanian author, Danielle Wood, has taken four ‘Brothers Grimm’ fairy tales and re-worked them into four, longish short stories delving into the darkness of being a modern mother.
Okay mums. Let’s hold hands and say this together. OUR CHILDREN TAKE US TO DARK PLACES. There, said it. Wasn’t so bad, huh?
It’s taken me six brutal years, three children, and many hours crying in a nursery to understand this. Of course, I could blame sleep deprivation for my dark thoughts but that would be missing half the equation, wouldn’t it? The children half, that is.
See, kids don’t just push buttons, they jump, stomp and do happy dances all over them. And it’s not even on purpose. It’s not meant to hurt you! To them it’s all Button. See. Push.
But the lack of intent doesn’t make things any easier. To be honest, there have been times I’ve reacted in ways of which I’m not proud. The modern mother is not supposed to get angry or lash out or do anything resembling the normal responses of a person pushed to their outer limits.
Did mothers of the 1600s worry about this? No, they did not. Until the 17th century children were seen as mini-adults, to be fed and clothed until the ripe old age of, say, five, at which point they were sent out to work.
‘Childhood’ is a relatively new (but rapidly expanding) concept in which a parents (usually the mother) is meant to supply her offspring with an extended period of emotional, financial and physical protection.
And what is the last thing one would do to one’s darling child? Read them a horror story full of blood and cannibalism, and witches and death. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Yet, this is precisely what fairy tales are – they are dark and frightening – or at least, they used to be. Modern re-workings tend to remove the blood and gore and the sanitisation of them is representative of the way in which the pressures have grown on mothers to achieve an (impossible) level of perfection for their children.
Herein lies the genius of Mothers Grimm in which Danielle Wood explores the challenges of modern-day mothering by re-working traditional fairy stories, including Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel. The twist is this – instead of shying away from the darkness, Wood dives right into it.
It matters not a jot if you do not remember (as I do not) the old fairy stories, for Wood’s tales of modern motherhood will resonate powerfully on their own.
These are stories of imperfect mothering – the mother who slaps their child, the mother who lets her child ‘accidentally’ die, the mother who mourns for her pre-child life, and the mother haunted by memories of the way she treated her own mother.
Sure, you may not know all of these mothers, but you will recognise their thoughts and feelings on motherhood, like this passage, on the inequality of the love between a parent and a child.
Nina’s love for Henry was fierce, of course. That was a given, but from the very beginning it was also inflected with a fear born of her suspicion that she needed him more than he needed her, and that he had – or at least would grow to have – the capacity to reject her in the most primal and hurtful of ways.
Now, don’t be concerned that this book is all doom and gloom. It’s not. There’s a truly wonderful black humour at play here, particularly in the prologue story – ‘The Good Mother’ where Wood writes with terrific wit about the experience of being an imperfect mother in a world that expects motherly perfection.
When you conceive again, you are pregnant with the vision of a placid, smooth-skinned human girls child, but what you give birth to-although female-is just another hedgehog.
When Hedgehog II is a year old, your partner announced he is leaving you.
‘I think you have a personality disorder,’ he says.
‘Of course I have a personality disorder,’ you say. ‘I haven’t slept for three years.
I wish I had read Mother’s Grim in those early, grim days of parenting. Sure, I may still still have cried endless tears over crying, unsleeping children, but at least I would have known that, even in the dark, I wasn’t alone.
Click here for a free extract.
Buy it from Angus and Robertson or Booktopia
Great review, Cassie! I love the quotes you’ve chosen here – they are from my two favourite stories in the book. I recently saw Danielle speak at the Perth Writers’ Festival about fairytales and she was so eloquent. She made me love her book even more than I already did.
Thanks Natasha. It’s amazing how getting to know an author can actually change your perception (a little) of their work. On a whim, I emailed Danielle to ask if she would answer some questions for the blog – and she did! – in the most delightful and funny way. I now love the book even more! Sort of reinforces the importance of what you, and other authors do, in terms of engaging with readers.
Oh that is so great! I just read the interview and loved it.
Well thank YOU for putting me onto the book!
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