"Happily ever after" and "once upon a time" have no place in this complex novel by British author Middleton, based on the lives of the world-renowned fairy-tale masters, the Brothers Grimm. In 1863, Jacob Grimm; his niece, Auguste; and their manservant, Kummel, travel from Berlin to Grimm's hometown of Hesse, where Auguste hopes to shed some light on family secrets. Her reticent uncle, however, is preoccupied with private memories of his humble childhood, his deceased brother and partner, Wilhelm, and their work on their first collection of stories, Tales for Young and Old. As the journey continues, a third narrative surfaces: Jacob Grimm's final telling of "Sleeping Beauty." In this troubling rendition of the fairy tale, a young man traverses a fractured yet magical countryside in search of the fabled princess, but his kiss fails to wake her immediately. When she finally opens her eyes, they marry, but the new prince's mother turns out to be the witch who first cast the sleeping spell. On the return trip to Berlin, Grimm's health is failing, and his niece is haunted by his reminiscences and her newfound feelings for Kummel. Beneath the surface of his narrative, Middleton (The People in the Picture; Son of Two Worlds, etc.) deftly surveys the German political landscape of the late 19th century and reveals a connection between Jacob Grimm's world and the horrors to come in the 20th century. Dense and many-layered, the novel requires much patience, but readers willing to invest the effort will reap a modest reward.
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