‘Tangleweed and Brine’ by Deirdre Sullivan – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Tangled tales of earth, salty tales of water

Bewitched retellings of thirteen classic fairy-tales with brave and resilient heroines. Tales of blood and intrigue, betrayal and enchantment from a leading Irish YA author.

My Review

Tangleweed and Brine is without a doubt the best YA short story collection I have ever read.

The writing is sumptuous. There is no better word to describe it. It is dark and subversive but in the best way possible. The stories are almost stark. Bare. But it’s this terse writing style that actually is what allows these stories to rock you to your core. The writing is utterly captivating and almost poetic in style.

What the author Deirdre Sullivan has done is taken the classic fairytales that we all know and love from our childhoods but she has COMPLETELY reimagined them. I mean it’s staggering how much new life she has breathed into the old bones. The narratives are completely twisted. Evil characters are seen in a new light, tired cliched heroines don’t depend on someone else to save them, the truth of sorry situations are unmasked for us… Everything feels utterly modern and fresh yet still classic and timeless. These are stories about womanhood. About what it means to be female. About how it feels to be female. She has unmasked the anti-feminist behaviours that were contained within the old fairytales and shines a light on the time old struggle for equality for all.

With each of the short stories there is a beautiful illustration by Karen Vaughan of a scene from the story. Simply drawn in black and white, this beautiful artwork really adds to the whole experience.

I have taken my time reading these stories and read just one at a time every few days or so. I truly feel like this is the best way to enjoy this book. These are stories to be savoured. Stories to think about. Stories to sit with. It’s not a book that you rush through because of the heightened emotions that the characters experience. Frequently I would finish reading a story and find myself overcome with tears and would just quietly sit there letting the effects of the story wash over me.

The book is divided into two sections:

  1. Tangleweed
  2. Brine

Section 1 Tangleweed: Tangled Tales of Earth

Slippershod (Cinderella reinterpreted)

Wow! What an amazing little story to start this collection off. First things first it completely draws you in with the beauty of the writing. I felt such emotion without knowing such simple things as names of characters or the time it was set…. It’s amazing how so much can be said in so short a piece of writing. And this is Cinderella as you have never read before. It’s all about knowing who you are and you’re own self worth.

4.5/5


The Woodcutter’s Bride (Little Red Riding Hood reinterpreted)

I was left completely breathless by this reinterpretation of Red Riding Hood. To see her as a woman trying to make sense of the past, of her struggle…
Speechless

5/5


Come Live Here and Be Loved (Rapunzel reinterpreted)

How did Rapunzel come to be in the tower? There is still such a beauty to the writing in this collection. A cold and chilling beauty. It speaks to what it means to be woman. To the soul of femininity. To the struggle to be accepted. To the quiet strength.

“Women die so many little deaths. Each time a hope is fisted like a butterfly to powder”

I’m besotted with this writing.

5/5


You Shall Not Suffer … (Hansel and Gretel reinterpreted)

This moved me so deeply. It takes the story of Hansel and Gretel and focuses on the witch in the woods with the gingerbread house and how she came to be there, to be so misunderstood.
I am in tears.

“You grew up soft. Your tender heart would nurse a frightened field mouse rescued from a trap. Would make a splint. You’d try to help but always it would die. You gave them names. You were a friendless child, a barrel-chested, sturdy little thing who played alone. You grew up soft, but still you learned to hide it. Piece by piece. The world’s not built for soft and sturdy things. It likes its soft things small and white, defenceless. Princesses in castles. Maidens waiting for the perfect sword. You grew up soft, and piece by wounded piece you built a carapace around your body. Humans are peculiar little things. “

5/5


Meet the Nameless Thing and Call It Friend (Rumpelstiltskin reinterpreted)

It’s about being trapped with no way out. About not casting aspersions / judgment. About having no option left.
It’s utter desolation. It’s not knowing the true cost of a bargain but having no choice because it is all that has been left to you.
It’s about hopelessness and unknowing and it will tear at the heart of anyone who has been left to make the coldest and cruelest of decisions through no fault of their own

4.5/5


Sister Fair (the traditional Irish tale of Fair, Brown and Trembling reinterpreted)

At this stage I feel like I’m being repetitive with my praise but I can’t help it. These stories are so mysterious. Almost out of reach and yet so utterly intimate. They speak to that which makes us female. They go to the core of your being. They just rip out your heart and show you its desolate beauty as you lay struggling for breath.

I love the style of this writing.
These words are words to be savoured.
To draw into your heart.
To make you think. Give you pause.

“You do not ask her if she even wants him. That is not at all what it’s about. It’s not about being sensible, or strong. It’s not about being kind. It’s not about the soft touch and the kind heart. Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are. That’s all an adder needs.”

5/5


Ash Pale (Snow White reinterpreted)

So far these stories are almost unrecognisable from the originals but yet they feel familiar to me as a woman. They speak to that part of myself that struggles for acceptance. This one had me struggling with the concept, the angle that Deirdre Sullivan took when writing. I was so confused as to whether this was the story of Snow White or the Evil Queen and then I realised that was the point. That their stories are mirrors of each other. That both are victims of circumstance. But it’s how you deal with those circumstances…. To quote Rudyard Kipling “if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”.
Are we all simply imposters?
Are we bad or good or are we all those shades of grey?

“Women aren’t allowed to do this here. To wield the power and to say the words. He’d burn you up, he’d burn you up, your father. Tears would stain his cheeks but he is just. He does the things he has to do, like a king. Your mother too. Although She wouldn’t cry. She’d know that fire wouldn’t be the end. Not for a thing like you. It would take more.”

5/5


Section 2 Brine: Salty Tales of Water

Consume Or Be Consumed (The Little Mermaid reinterpreted)

The Little Mermaid is my favourite fairytale. It is the one that means the most to me. I hated the Disney animated version for how it took away the beauty and the sadness of Hans Christian Anderson’s original story. I felt it robbed The Little Mermaid of her heart in a similar fashion to how the Sea Witch stole her voice. So this was the story I was most nervous about reading. How would my favourite fairytale be reinterpreted. Would it still feel like that story I know and love since childhood or would it be transformed completely?
Well to me this was an absolute triumph. Hands down my favourite story so far in this book. It shows the inner turmoil of the little mermaid, shows her naïveté and her lost innocence. It shows her sadness and her distaste for what she thought was love. It shows heartbreak not from someone not loving you back but from not loving yourself enough. It is perhaps the most recognisable story compared to the originals of all the fairytales in this collection and yet it is completely brand new. Fresh. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. And it made my heart both soar and sink.

“You thought if you were good. If you gave up the things that made you different. The world you know. That it would be enough. But sacrifice is often so invisible. People do not look for it in others. They know their own. They list them out like titles at a ball. I’ve done for you. I’ve done for you. I’ve done. And it is always your turn now. To hurt, to long. To be a broken thing. A thing that differs. Before, you always thought you were a person.”

5/5


Doing Well (The Frog Prince reinterpreted)

I’m so upset by this story. By the victimisation of the girl betrothed to a frog prince. How she has no rights. How she is his and his alone and there is no out.

It’s horrible.
It’s masterful in its horribleness

5/5


The Tender Weight (Bluebeard reinterpreted)

I’m not as intimately familiar with the tale of Bluebeard but I know the basic outline. In so many ways this retelling throws it for a six and transforms the reasons behind the locked secret room. In this story, as in the original, a young girl is given unto a man and her treatment so sad and disturbing. She’s regarded as a possession, a body with no soul but then something happens… And she finds herself giving herself unto him of her own volition and the result is bewitching. There’s so much to think about. Ownership of our hearts, our lives, our loves… What it means to truly love another. Someone who is an entire stranger to your being. And what it means to feel the pain of love in all its forms.

5/5


Riverbed (Donkeyskin reinterpreted)

I do not know this original tale at all so I don’t know how it was altered. It’s probably the story I have least connected with so far but it’s still utterly gripping. The story of a father’s obsession with his daughter’s likeness to her deceased mother is creepy to the max but what’s great is how the daughter handles herself. She takes charge of her own fate.

4/5


The Little Gift (The Goose Girl reinterpreted)

I wish I could find the words to express how moving I find the writing in each of these short stories. I sat here in the stillness just letting the emotions of this story wash over me for some time after finishing reading it. Again this is an utterly beautiful and ultimately heartbreaking take on a traditional fairytale. In this retelling of The Goose Girl the question is asked of what would you do for love? Can you change your whole being for another person and still love them if they can’t change for you…

“The love in me is welling up like water. It gathers at my neck. It rises up. I close my eyes. I know that it will drown me. I see my feet in cased in White Hart gold. I see the barrel, shining like a geode on the inside. I did not think that I could dare to want this. I did not think it all. I did not dream. Or if I did, I shaped my dreams acceptably. I did not name my ones. I did not know.”

5/5


Beauty and the Board (Beauty and the Beast reinterpreted)

I don’t know why but I failed to connect to this story at all. It still had beautiful moments and was thought provoking in its own way… But it didn’t enchant me as all the other stories have. I’m so sad because it’s the last story in the collection…
3/5


I am completely in love with this book. It is near flawless in its execution and words cannot express how highly I recommend it to all lovers of beautiful prose and old style fairytales.

Even though I failed to connect with one story in this collection I am still giving this my highest rating of five stars for coming within a hair’s breadth of perfection.

Simply stunning.


Read between September and December 2017

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3 thoughts on “‘Tangleweed and Brine’ by Deirdre Sullivan – Book Review

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