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When I discovered that T. F. Carthick’s first book ‘Unfairy Tales‘ was coming out this month, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it. I finished reading the book today.

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Unfairy Tales‘ is a collection of seven fairy tales. All the tales are famous ones which most of us have read. But that is not the end of the story. Because there is more to them than meets the eye. The stories are all told from an unusual, unexpected point of view. Sometimes, the person, who we think is the bad person in the original fairytale, tells the story. We see the events unfolding in a totally unexpected way from this unusual point of view, that we start questioning whether our original understanding of the fairytale is correct. Sometimes the narrator of the story is a totally unexpected character and in one story the city is the narrator. That point of view is fascinating, I think. Some of the stories have different endings from the original fairytales, while others have the same endings as the originals, but because we see the story from a new, novel point of view, the ending looks very different. It is like looking at a familiar building from different angles and from different levels of elevation – the same thing unfolds itself in new perspectives, and reveals hidden depths of beauty.

Throughout the book, the author pays homage to literary masters like Charles Dickens and Douglas Adams and each of the story titles is a homage, in itself, to a famous literary work. The stories are also filled with subtext which allude to specific scenes or lines or inferences in other literary texts. It is fun to spot these subtexts. Sometimes the narrator of a fairytale steps a little bit outside the specific events and ventures into the general, and offers commentary on the human condition, on the position of women in relation to men, on the relationship between humans and animals and the environment, on the evolution of human history, on imperialism and colonization, and sometimes even on contemporary affairs. One of my favourite passages, from this perspective, was this one :

“This is always the way of men. Dire situations call for the best of men at the helm. But instead, when things turn bad, people more often than not end up choosing the worst among them to lead. It would be years before the people would realize the disastrous consequences of choosing one such…”

Another of my favourite passages was this one :

“Isn’t this usually the way with you humans? If you stumble upon something, you obviously have to break in. Then you will take what you like. After that you will throw out the original inhabitants and erect fences to keep them out.”

The cover art is by Rashmi Prabhu and it is in vivid colour and depicts the main elements of the featured fairytales beautifully. I loved Rashmi Prabhu’s cover art and colourplates in Ushasi Sen Basu’s delightful novel ‘Kathputli’, and it appears that with each new book her artwork is growing from strength to strength. 

So, that’s it. This is my sufficiently vague review of ‘Unfairy Tales‘ – I haven’t revealed the name of any story or the name of any narrator, haven’t talked about the endings which are surprising and different, and haven’t talked about specific literary allusions. These are not for me to reveal. These are for you to read and find out.

I loved ‘Unfairy Tales‘. I think whether one is a child or a teenager or a grown up, one will enjoy it in different ways. I loved the unusual points of view, the sometimes surprising endings, the literary allusions, the homage to the masters, the commentary on the human condition – together they created magic. T. F. Carthick has followed in the long tradition of Angela Carter and John Connolly and Michael Cunningham and composed a book which offers a fresh new perspective on some of our favourite fairytales. It is a wonderful debut. I can’t wait to find out what he comes up with next.

Have you read ‘Unfairy Tales‘? What do you think about it?

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