Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue is a series of interconnected short stories. Each one takes a familiar fairy tale, and focuses it heavily on the female characters: their inner lives, their trials, and their interactions. In each tale, the heroine meets another woman, be it step-mother, maid, witch, or fortune-teller, and one way, or another, asks that woman to tell her own story. In this way the tales move backwards through time, with the youngest woman telling the first story, and each new character telling her own tale back through the generations.
Kissing the Witch focuses almost exclusively on the female characters. The stories are peopled with many common folktale archetypes–princesses, queens, witches, mothers, step-mothers, but often these familiar characters are not quite as you’ve seen them before. The step-mothers and witches, usually relegated to evil-doing and ignominious death, are allowed to explain themselves by telling of their pasts, and putting a new perspective on what may be seen as evil. The princesses are able to see though their protective shells and make their own ways in the world. All of these changes are achieved through women’s interactions with other women. It is a beautiful illustration of the way women can be powerful, and especially on the way the strength of women is magnified through learning from and working with other women.
The stories in this book utilize a lot of the language and structure of fairy tales, using repeated words and phrases, and sparse, poetic language. These tales don’t need flowery embellishment. They depart from the traditional folktale in one major way: most fairy tales are told in the third person, while these are in the first person. Often in fairy tales, the protagonist is the only person given a real name “Cinderella” or “Snow White”, while the other characters are all called by their Archetypal title “Prince”, “Step-mother”, “King”. These stories follow this convention, except that because of the first-person voice, the protagonists are only referred to as “I” and “me”. These stories are universal, they don’t need to belong to any name in particular.
Since there are many stories, there are also many characters in this book. The central women get the most attention, since they each appear in two stories, and at two different stages in their lives. I talked about that above, and will touch on it again below, so I’ll leave it there for this section!
We all had different “wow moments” in this book, depending on which stories we connected with the most. Every time one of us brought up a part that had really struck us, all the rest would go “Oh, yeah, that part was great”, even though we all had different parts we wanted to talk about.
I think my biggest “wow moment” came after reading the book, as I went back to flip through the stories and really think about how they connected, and which characters were the same character at two different ages, like the Queen in Snow White being the maid from The Goose Girl. Reading it through the first time, I had just enjoyed each story without really thinking of how they were connected, but the more connections you look at, the more meaning you can find in each characterization, and the more sense the often misunderstood older versions of the characters become.
Is this a good book club book? Discussion highlights?
Absolutely! We talked about it for over two hours with hardly any digressions. We got to talk about fairy tales and folklore in general as well, which is such a large and interesting topic, but there is so much to talk about in this collection in particular: ideas of identity, self-knowledge, taking control of your life, the difference between good and evil, and how many good things can be perceived as evil depending on who gets to tell the story.
Book Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!
Safai serves up many of your normal coffee shop pastries, plus local Cellar Door Chocolates, and freshly made crêpes (both sweet and savory). We got tasty drinks from coffee to smoothies (though I will say that their matcha tea is far too sweet, but I’ve never yet found a coffee shop that did tea really well. It’s understandable, it’s not their thing). No one tried any of the sweets, but several of us got different savory crêpes, which come with either chips or salad. They aren’t overly exciting, but they are tasty, and a good portion for crêpes. I definitely recommend getting some of the mustard cheddar in yours!
It’s a coffee shop, so any table service is pretty perfunctory, but the staff was friendly and quick. They did bring the crêpes to our table, which is nice since we didn’t have to keep an ear out for our names being called.
It’s a cute place with local art on the walls where we were, and plenty of space. There are many different kinds of seating depending on your preference: low tables, regular tables, couches, bar with high stools.
Ease of discussion
There is a large table in the foyer area, which you can reserve for a group meeting. We sat there, and it’s a nice private area to have a good discussion. It’s separated from most of the other customers, all though there is some additional seating in the same area, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing the entire shop. We would definitely recommend it if you want to have a meeting over coffee-but do call ahead to make sure the big table will be available when you need it!
Food Rating: 4 out of 5 servings