Before Beauty by Robin McKinley I don’t think I had read any other fairytale retellings, so I really had no expectations whatsoever while diving into this book. However (and this is a big H for me!), I was so surprised and taken aback by this novel, that I had to keep on reading it no matter what! I was like under a spell that I couldn’t shake off, nor did I want to. For a few days, my head was filled with stuff related to Beauty and Beast, and I, myself, felt like living in a fairytale. It was a strange feeling, that’s for sure…
I came across this book by chance, thanks to the almighty Goodreads, and this was my first encounter EVER with Robin McKinley’s work. Until this book, I had never heard of her, nor did I know what she could do, but now I’m more than convinced: she’s an awesome writer! 😀 How do I know that? Simply because Beauty is a wonderfully written piece of literature, fit for both children and adults. It takes some literary skills to be able to do that, and it’s no easy job. This novel encompasses everything there is to know about growing up, about changing, about becoming a young adult, and the writing style is so modern that it’s quite difficult to believe that the novel was first published in 1978. But enough of my gushing over this great book, I have to tell you what makes it so memorable and so one-of-a-kind, despite its lack of cheesy romance and non-realistic kissing scenes that are SO this century.
First of all, I absolutely adored the fact that Beauty is so unlike the Disney character: she is a bookish girl, I’ll admit that, but she doesn’t consider herself a beauty at all. She is the youngest of three sisters, and while her older sisters are beautiful and graceful and angelic, she is plain and completely uninteresting (at least that’s what she thinks of herself). Her lack of self-confidence was so heart-breaking to read about, that I rooted for her with all my might. I wanted her to change, to realize her potential, to become the woman who would make a good queen. Finally, her character slowly starts to shift towards self-confidence when she goes to live in Beast’s enchanted castle.
(Note to all readers out there: this story follows closely the story collected by Charles Perrault and dating from 1891. Of course, the changes introduced by Robin McKinley are what make this book a “retelling”, but I just thought you should know. The Disney version has nothing to do with it.) Beauty is only 17 years old when she meets Beast and her character is very much like that of a real 17 year-old girl. Granted, she has a mind of her own and she is brave enough to take her father’s place in the Beast’s castle, but the loneliness she feels there, her longing for her home, are so, so real that I truly felt sorry for her! She felt real to me, not just a character in a book. And I loved her for that. She was weak at times, strong at other times, she was scared and she was brave. She was pretty damn perfect!
Also, another thing I loved about this retelling was the way in which the Beast was portrayed. Don’t want to spoil you, but I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t a young man anymore, that the enchantment hadn’t stopped time completely, but only made it go slower. The relationship between Beauty and Beast is soft and warm and real, it’s not something that happens overnight and it’s definitely not similar to the one described in the Disney movie (I can’t help it! I keep comparing the two…). The fact that the book has almost no romance in it did NOT detract from the pleasure of reading it, since, like I said, Robin McKinley has such a wonderful way with words. The writing was really beautiful and I enjoyed it so very much. However, I guess I could only recommend this novel to teens or even children, since it may be a little bit too plain for adults. But I enjoyed it nevertheless. 😀
As a conclusion, I must tell you what sparked my interest for this book. I watched the 2014 La belle et la bête French film, with Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux, and I was so fascinated by the story, the imagery, by everything really, that I made a note in my mind to search for the original story and/or retellings of it in order to quench my thirst for some Beauty and Beast action. Then I forgot all about that. Then I came across Beauty by Robin McKinley on Goodreads and I just HAD to read it! Coincidence? Don’t think so! 😀 So that’s the story, folks. That is how the cookie crumbles.
Where you can find the book:
Hoping you liked my review, I leave you with the trailer for La belle et la bête. Do watch the film, it’s amazingly good!