The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth, Random House Publishers, 2013.
RRP $32.95 Australian.
The Wild Girl is Kate’s second foray into the adult historical fiction and romance genre and, much like Bitter Greens, her experimentation does not disappoint. A romance story which should appeal to readers of Paullina Simons and Juliet Marillier, a historical fiction that gives Philippa Gregory a run for her money and an example of exemplary fairy story scholarship, The Wild Girl is in turns beautiful, deeply disturbing, evocative and of course, like any good fairy story romance, features a signature happy ending.
The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild, the girl who grew up next door to the Grimm brothers. Set in the nineteenth century in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel, Kate retells the story of Dortchen’s love for Wilhelm Grimm, exploring the poverty, tyranny and terror of Napoleonic Europe as well as a darkness found closer to home which continued to make marriage between the two an impossible dream. This darkness at the centre of the novel is kept at bay by the telling and reshaping of fairy stories, with the remoulding of the incestuous fairy story, ‘All-Kinds-Of-Fur’ a reoccuring motif in the novel. Each part of the novel is bookended by Grimm fairy story excerpts, cleverly reflecting and refracting elements of Dortchen’s own tale.
I very rarely read and enjoy romance fiction but this novel is also historical fiction, involves fairy stories, the brothers Grimm, and Germany, all of which are things that I like quite a bit. In recent years, both fairy story revisionism and the Grimm brothers have been flogged to death. In popular culture, the recent police procedural tv show Grimm has riffed off the brothers stories for a modern audience and The Brothers Grimm (2005) starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger played fast and loose with history and used fantasy to speculate on how the Grimm brothers sourced their stories. A number of Grimm fairy stories have been appropriated again and again for modern audiences, including Six Swans, Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. In one of the more interesting fairy story appropriations, there has even been a Tony award winning Broadway musical featuring the memorable rapping witch, Bernadette Peters, in a post modern opretta. With songs like Children Should Listen, Last Midnight and No One is Alone, Sondheim further cemented himself as a musical composer and lyricist of considerable skill with Into The Woods. So where does that leave The Wild Girl? With so much fairy story retelling and post modern twisting and interest in origin stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kate had boxed herself into a corner writing about the Grimm’s.
Happily she doesn’t. This is because, as she did with Bitter Greens, Kate spends an inordinate amount of time researching to give voice to the forgotten women in European history. Her emphasis on quality research ensures an equally valid account of Dortchen Wild’s relation to the Grimm brothers as any other historians guess. The story is strong, sensitive and well written. I whirled through the many pages. The story is not anachronistic and conversations feel real. I can only imagine how many hours Kate spent slaving over this manuscript to get the tone, the dialogue and the characters so right. A stunning achievement, and a book that I would reccomend to anyone interested in romance, historical fiction or fairy story interpretations.
The Wild Girl: 4/5 inky stars
Am advance copy of this book was supplied by the author. The Wild Girl comes out 18/03/13.