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Take a gander at Goose Girl
on May 14, 2006
Shannon Hale just won a Newbery Honor for her latest book, The Princess Academy, and my wife raves about Hale's The Goose Girl - for good reason. An extrapolation of the Grimm brothers' tale of the same name, Goose Girl chronicles a princess' fall from power and long climb back up from where she lands - tending the royal geese in the far-off land where she was supposed to marry the prince.
Goose Girl matches the tone and magic of fairy tales, while delving more deeply into character and consequence. I fell into the no-nonsense prose and moved swiftly through the tale, happy that the story's slower, more poignant moments didn't necessarily read that way. Unfortunately, Hale's even style also dulled some of the more exciting moments; there were at least two occasions where I felt serious action in the book demanded more electric, exciting prose. It almost felt as if surviving a rather vicious coup carried the exact same weight as playing chase with a goose.
But the narration always reminds us that what we are reading is a fairy tale, and like most fairy tales, this one has its pleasingly predictable ups and downs, and its happily ever after. I did think the end game was a bit messy though. I accept those "I have you now, Mr. Bond - but I'm not going to kill you until you've had a chance to escape/be saved" moments in some fiction (see for example, um, well, almost every James Bond movie) but in books like this I am a bit disappointed when the protagonist puts herself in a bad position, and then lives to tell the tale only because the bad guys didn't run her through when they had the chance.
And too, like any ripping yarn worth its salt, there are plenty of opportunities in Goose Girl for the good guys to square off against their particular nemeses, but I found myself rolling my eyes a bit as one of the villains moved from hero to hero, distracted from dealing a death blow only by someone else daring him or challenging him to come fight. After the book was over, I compared said moments to that classic scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya finally gets his revenge on the six-fingered man. Why, I asked myself, did I cheer for Montoya and the perfectly obvious resolution to his storyline, but roll my eyes at the parade of such scenes in Goose Girl?
I put the question to my wife, and, as usual, she had the answer. Princess Bride tells its fairy tale with tongue firmly planted in cheek, playing with storybook conventions even as it exploits them. Goose Girl thrives on its fairy tale past, but is a much more serious novel. I suppose that's why I needed a bit more from the ending than what it delivered.