My Rocky Dances

My Summer Reading Challenge

Lately, I’ve been struggling to just pick up a book and immerse myself in its world. I think it has a lot to do with the amount of research and reading I have done for my master thesis. After a long day at the library, I often struggle to gather my concentration for another book. Let’s be real- binging some Netflix or YouTube is less demanding than reading.

Anyway, I don’t like that my reading habits have suffered so much under my uni work and therefore I decided to set up a fun reading challenge for the months to come. I’m pretty much a “challenge-accepted” girl and competition often gets me going (which is not always a good thing, I know).

Below is the reading challenge template I put together. If you find yourself in a reading funk too, then I hope I can help you out with this fun list and get you back to the pages!

summer reading challenge

For some categories, I already know which books I’m going to read:

  1. Fairytales
    I’m still working my way through the Brothers Grimm’s collection. Here are 7 fairy tales I chose: “The Golden Bird”, “Hans in Luck”, “Old Sultan”, “The Frog Prince”, “The Goose Girl”, “Tom Thumb” and “The Seven Ravens”.
    I’m also eager to finally read the original tale of “Beauty and the Beast”, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
  2. Book about Travelling
    This has to be Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Confession time: saw the film before the book…)
  3. Fairytale re-writing
    I have two so far: After Alice by Gregory Maguire and The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill.
  4. Book adapted for TV show
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I started it but had to give it up again because of my thesis. And no, I haven’t watched the TV show (yet!).
  5. Books recommended by friends
    Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. My friend Leonie adored this and it has mermaid references…
    For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Elena, (if you read this), I will read it this summer!
  6. Greek myth re-telling
    Circe by Madeline Miller. I heard so many great things about this novel and I’m a Circe-fan- so it sounds like right down my alley!

    I still have to fill the blanks for the remaining categories, so stay tuned for a haul 😀 and I somehow need to plan which book I will read this month  (TBR June to come…).

Review: the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

Writing a poetry review feels somewhat out of my comfort zone. From time to time, though, I really crave some verse. So with this post, I’m going to test the waters and do my first poetry review. Amanda Lovelace’s collection feels like a good start, especially since it is embedded in fairy tale tropes.

the princess saves herself in this one is a poetry collection dealing with quite heavy subject matter, including death, suicide, child abuse, bullying and cancer. The collection is divided into four parts: “the princess”, “the damsel”, “the queen” and “you”.


Some poems in this book really struck me- for different reasons. Sometimes, I found myself reading lines over and over again and I really wanted to cherish them and have them imprinted somewhere in my mind. Yet, other poems did not speak to me at all and I suddenly found myself rushing down the page, in a haste to turn to the next one.

I was disappointed by the simplicity of this book. I believe that simple language is at the core of her writing, yet while it worked fantastically for some poems, it did not do much for others. There was sometimes a certain imbalance between the heaviness of the subject matter and the poetics used to express it. Also, even though the collection uses fairy tale figures- such as the princess and the damsel- I expected more nuanced fairy tale tropes. After reading certain poems, I was still searching for the fairy tale motif to seep through- in that sense, the fairy tale title of the collection might promise a bit more than can be found inside.

Nonetheless, some poems stood out because of their simplicity. I especially like the first poems in the “princess” category. In these poems, the fairy tale references came out the strongest and I liked the way Lovelace adapted them to her life experiences. Not many, but some of the significant tropes stretch through the entire collection and come back later in the book, making it one coherent piece.

I was also positively suprised by the pace of this collection. Unlike other poetry, I read it in one sitting and when I turned the last page, I really had the impression that I read a fairy tale. But there is no magic- it is realistic, plain and empowering for women and girls who are not blessed with a fairy godmother to get through hard times and yet, who manage to slay the dragons life presents them with.

Here is one of the poems that stayed with me for its plain language but resonating sweetness:

“if he was
my cup of tea,
then you are
my cup of coffee.

tea simply
isn’t enough
for me sometimes,

but coffee
can get me

-did i make you up?”

Freak shows, Fairytales and Alice Hoffman


Fairytales are located inside the fantastic realm. They make the impossible possible and conceive of creatures that transcend our rational perceptions.

Human fascination with wondrous creatures did not always stay on page: freak shows were one way of showcasing those that did not correspond to what humanity classified as “normal”. In The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman has intertwined freak show, fairy tale tropes and a tragedy in women’s working past.

I firstly picked up this novel when I was doing research for my thesis because it sort of includes a mermaid figure- but I’ll come back to that later.

The narrative is set in 1911, in New York- more specifically on Coney Island. What might be well-known as a place of entertainment and amusement parks used to be a hot spot for freak shows. One of these freak show places is the Museum of Extraordinary Things under the leadership of Professor Sardie. His daughter, called Coralie Sardie, was born with webbed fingers. Coralie’s exploitative father sees a business opportunity in her disability and trains her to become one of his museum freaks. In the ice-cold currents of the Hudson River, Coralie is trained to hold her breath underwater for extremely long time. With a blue silk tail, she is put in a tank in the museum and embodies the museum’s “Human Mermaid”.

During one of her night swims in the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles across Eddie Cohen. Eddie is a photographer who has given up his former orthodox upbringing. After taking photos of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, during which 146 employees died, Eddie becomes enmeshed in the case of a missing girl. His quest eventually leads him to the Museum of Extraordinary Things- and to Professor Sardie’s gruesome scientific experiments.

The mermaid establishes obvious links with the fairy tale genre. Coralie is of course not a real mermaid but her slight deformity really initiates the fake narrative around her existence. Mermaids can be read and analysed in numerous ways. However, I think that in this book, the mermaid figure emphasises two central themes:

Otherness and ostracising difference

At the end of the day, Coralie is just another girl. In today’s society, she would probably undergo surgery and her disability would go unnoticed. Yet, back in the 1900s her webbed fingers shaped her into a freak- a very problematic and offensive term. As a scientific fanatic, Coralie’s father exploits his daughter’s abnormality and does not help to shed positive light on her deformed hands.

This otherness is clearly felt by Coralie, who wishes for nothing more than to be a plain girl. Instead, she is trapped into that freak category, or as she puts it, into being

“her father’s daughter, a living wonder, an oddity no common man could ever understand” (33).

Freakshows objectified people with disabilities who often could not find work elsewhere. Visitors paid just to look at these people that were, essentially, only different to them.

The latest box-office hit The Greatest Showman , starring Hugh Jackman, probably instilled visual ideas of what these “freaks” looked like: women with beards, men with tattoos all over their bodies, people with missing limbs, or as shown in the novel, sword swallowers and conjoined twins. However, the cheeriness and empowering message of the musical version suppresses the not so joyful aspects of freak shows in history. Those people were exploited for being different, rather than celebrated. Their income depended on being stared at and made fun of- for hours. They were often treated like animals, like commodities that generated profits for people like Professor Sardie, or his non-fictional prototype, PT Barnum.

By bringing in the mermaid to this rather shameful past, Hoffman highlights an often-overlooked characteristic of the water woman. In literature and other forms of art, mermaids have a long history of being “othered”, being represented as female oddities that are situated somewhere between being a fish and woman; animal and human. The fascination with fairy tales resembles the fascination people held for freak shows, since they take place in a realm that counters conventionality. Figures like the mermaid problematise traditions and what we believe to be normal.

Unsurprisingly, out-spoken feminists like Angela Carter largely focus their writing on these worlds that offer alternative realities. Her works include fairy tales and circuses, and inevitably challenge questions of power and patriarchal values. Of course, by including the factory fire, Hoffman’s novel briefly brings in another large part of society which has been ostracised and suppressed. The now infamous fire killed 146 garment workers- out of which 123 were women. This tragedy was a big eye opener to show the lack of rights for women and workers and lead to the rise of unions.

The narratives we create define us

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the narrative we create. Coralie is nothing but a girl. Yet, all she was told and all she was trained to do, is to stand out. She has been raised within that discourse of difference, of otherness. Yet, imagine if she had parents who loved her, and told her that she was not an oddity. She might have perceived herself as an entirely different girl.

Same goes for these so-called freak shows. You only need to look back to how Barnum’s wonders were promoted: African people were advertised as “STRANGE AND SAVAGE TRIBES”. This shows that it was not what the exhibits looked like but more what the narratives, the words, and the setting shaped them into. The people shown in these freak shows were often feared not because of their disabilities or their looks, but rather because of the visual effects and narratives that surrounded them.

I think that’s something to keep in mind. People tend towards pre-figured, ready-made opinions about what is “different” before they actually come face to face with it. The narratives we create can be dangerous and can potentially offer fertile ground for racism and bigotry.

But, to end on a happier note, there’s also a positive drive in these narratives that we create. To a certain extent, it is what we find in dreams and our moments of visualisation. Every narrative starts somewhere. Often on a small scale, in a confined room, which might as well be inside our heads. But when that narrative is given attention and is told over and over again, then it might even reach the bigger crowds and somehow gain momentum. And that’s perhaps what The Greatest Showman tried to do, as the film’s theme song says:

“I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be- this is me.”

Nomatter how cheesy this sounds, if such lines or narratives are perpetuated, then we might not even be on such a gloomy path.

I know- I’m definitely deviating from the story here. But as you can see, there is a strong connection between fairytales and freak shows. Both have generated narratives of people or even animals that do not support the norm, or what we have come to believe stands for the norm. And I guess that’s why I was so intrigued by Alice Hoffman’s novel.

Other Circus/ Freak Show Recommendations:

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Cinderella Complex: Do Women Still Want To Be Saved?


A friend of mine once told me: “You’re lucky. You have your boyfriend who’s with you here and you can plan your future together- your life looks so concrete.”

That statement simmered with me for quite a while. Yes, sure I have a boyfriend and yes, we are currently renovating a dream house- but does that really make me luckier? I’m sure that my friend did not intend to question women’s independence and I’m pretty certain that I caught her at a vulnerable moment then. But still- to me, it’s quite concerning that you need to have a boyfriend in order to start planning your life. Do women still wait for a partner before they really aboard on their journeys? Are we still waiting for the prince on the white horse to be taken out of the dull limbo that precedes the true fun in life?

This discussion takes us to what psychologists call “The Cinderella Complex”. It’s one of the many psychological syndromes observed in women and essentially describes women’s fear of independence. Sounds scary to any girl bosses out there but according to Colette Dowling and psychology, it is a thing.

The name obviously traces back to the fairy tale of Cinderella. It specifically centres on Cinderella’s passive character which I discussed in last week’s blog post.

Colette Dowling argues in her book that numerous women bear this Cinderella facet inside of them- herself included. According to Dowling, most women are ready to drop all of their individual ambitions as soon as they can enter the domestic space. Like Cinderella, women wait for an external force or human to change their lives. In other words, women still wait for their men or their fairy godmother to be financially and emotionally saved.

Dowling’s inspiration for the book came from her own experience. She is a divorced mother of three daughters and for years, she was in charge of her family. After some years, Dowling fell in love with a new man and once again, she went down the feminine spiral of dependence. With her children and her new partner, she moved to the country side. She gave up on her own writing and instead, typed the manuscripts for her partner. Of course, this domestic imbalance led to a huge fight in which Colette was forced to face her own fear of independence. This epiphany of some sorts kicked off her writing and research which came to fruits in her book The Cinderella Complex, published in 1981.

I would love to boldly state that the time span of over thirty years gave us women some time to get a grip on reality and take over our own pumpkin coaches. I think that social media has played a huge role in raising awareness and fostering women rights’ movements. Platforms like Instagram or Twitter help to share daily affirmations to embrace women’s independence and diverse living situations.

However, Cosmopolitan also existed in the eighties and according to Dowling, the feminist affirmations were similar to the ones that are propelled on Instagram today, which spread the credo: “I can be sexy and successful at the same time” (Dowling 175).

Does this mean that in 2018, women’s fear of independence is still looming at the back of our minds?

Such an observation is certainly shocking, to say the least. Of course, I wanted to find some proof AGAINST this rather sad conclusion and I raced through Dowling’s book for evidence that women are at least less inclined to depend on external forces.

  • Women communicate tentatively

One big point of evidence that the Cinderella Complex is still part of women is the way we communicate:

 “communication in general is difficult for women whose self-esteem is low and who harbour an inner wish to be taken care of. Some women get confused, forget what they wanted to say, can’t find the right word, can’t look people in the eye. Or they blush, or stutter, or find their voices getting quavery. Or they have trouble sustaining the line of an argument the moment someone disagrees with them. They may become flustered and tearful- especially if it’s a man doing the disagreeing.”

Moreover, women’s speech is tentative, they often end their sentences with questions or in questioning intonations that express some hesitance. And indeed, when I closely pay attention to the way I communicate, I notice that I often end my sentences in questions, with some hesitance in my voice. It’s a terrible thing to notice and it even diminishes my credibility. Of course, I don’t want to come across as over-confident or rude, which in my opinion also expresses uncertainty, but still, if I have something important to say then I don’t want to question it before I have even fully expressed it.

  • Women don’t take credit for their accomplishments

Another symptom of the Cinderella Complex is that we fail to take credit for our accomplishments. Dowling says that women tend to negate their success, but when it comes to failure, they “leap at the opportunity to take responsibility for” it (188). If I look at the women around me, myself partly included, I often observe that it’s almost shameful to talk about your success. It’s either a source for jealousy or it’s just not worth discussing- almost taken as granted that you should succeed. Also the way we measure success has become highly problematic.

  • Tearing their partners down

A final symptom that I think still applies to today is the ambivalent state of women in relationships: there is the tendency to either subordinate oneself to their partner, portray oneself as smaller than the partner OR to tear them down by complaining about the clichéd behaviour of one’s partner. This rant of complaints take place on a superficial level and does not force women out of their “girlish disillusionment” to take action (144).

And still, I think that we have at least improved in some ways. If anything, we stay away from big generalizing claims today, like the one made by Dowling in her book.

Yes, a lot of these signs of behaviour are still present in women today. But I think that on the one hand, it is a bit discrediting women and putting down their rich inner lives. Also dependency in itself needs a clearer definition in my mind, for some women might feel dependent on their partner if they stay at home and look after the kids, yet on the other hand, other women might feel independent from some other pressuring expectations. Especially today, a strand of belief tends to applaud women who choose career over family and pity the ones that don’t- which again, is not the right way to go.

Reclaim your independence by listening to your gut!

I think that Dowling’s own conclusion is a great starting point to conceive of our inner Cinderella. Dowling writes that freedom and independence should be developed from within. This can only happen for women, but also for men if we pay close attention to ourselves- or as Dowling puts it: “by leaving no stone unturned in examining your motives, your attitude, your ways of thinking about things” (196).

If you feel the urge to paint, even though you’ve never painted in your whole life- why go ahead take out that brush, colour and paint! If you feel like dancing even though you’ve come to believe that you can’t even hold your balance while tying your shoe laces- screw that mindset and start dancing. It’s important to shut off from time to time what those around you scream, deem or believe you should be doing- whether that be your Instagram feed, society around you or your step-mother and step-sisters.

And if you want to turn a pumpkin into a coach, well it’s always worth trying– who knows, your independence might even help you to defy science.


The Cinderella Complex: Fairy tales in psychology

In the third episode of Once Upon A Different Time, I’ll introduce you to psychology and how it uses fairy tale figures to describe certain psychological patterns in women.

One of these is the “Cinderella Complex”- which describes the fear of independence in women. I talk about Colette Dowling’s best-selling book on the Cinderella Complex which was published in the eighties. I’ll take you through how the syndrome can be identified among women today- including myself. From this, I’ll give you my advice on how to reclaim your independence.

Disclaimer: contains some feminist viewpoints!

Podcast: The Gruesome History of Cinderella (Episode 2):

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The History of Cinderella

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I think it’s safe to state: Cinderella is one of the most well-known fairy stories of all time. Who hasn’t been touched by the poor orphan who’s terribly exploited by her mean step-mother and step-sisters but whose spotless goodness and integrity will be rewarded as she ends up marrying the prince of her kingdom?

The dominant version of Cinderella has of course been told by Disney. Like any other fairy tale, it is a construct of numerous versions that have travelled over borders and across time. As a result from folklore, the tale has been passed on through oral story telling before it was first written down. However, what is so fascinating about the history of Cinderella is that almost the entire tale has survived- not only hundreds but thousands of years!

The earliest version of Cinderella traces back to 6th century BC. It is the story of Rhodopis, a Greek courtesan who married the king of Egypt. The story was written down by the Greek philosopher and historian Strabo around 5 centuries later. According to the tale, Rhodope took a bath when her sandal was carried off by an eagle and taken to the Pharaoh of Memphis. The Pharaoh vowed to marry the owner of the tiny shoe and sent his troops to search the country for the unknown sandal owner. Rhodope is found in the city of Naucratis and brought to Memphis to become the wife of the king.

The next version I came across takes us to China, to the Tang dynasty in 850. It is the story of Yeh-hsien. As in other versions, her mother dies. However, it’s not really an outsider that steps in as her mother but her father’s second wife- polygamy was no big deal back then. Yeh-hsien comforts herself by befriending a golden fish that one day appears in their pond. Yet, the nasty stepmother or co-wife quickly discovers Yeh-hsien’s secret friend and kills it. She eats the fish and hides its bones. A magician of some sort tells Yeh-hsien about her step-mother’s sin and urges Yeh-hsien to hide the bones in her room. Whenever she wants for something, she has to wish for it and it will appear- from that day on she did no longer suffers hunger nor thirst. One day, her step-mother and sisters leave for a ball and Yeh-hsien wishes for a golden attire to follow them in secret.  Unfortunately, they recognise her and as Yeh-hsien flees, she loses one of her golden shoes. A local warloard finds the extremely small shoe and orders all the women to try it on. Yeh-hsien reveals herself with her magical fishbones and tries on the shoe, whereupon she becomes the new “chief” wife of the king. Her step-mother and step-sisters are not only left behind- but stoned to death. The locals feel sorry for the wicked mother and sisters and construct them a grave, entitled “The Tomb of the Distressed Women.” This story gives already a lot more to digest than the well-known Disney version.

Next, we take a huge leap in time to the 17th century in France. We’re talking about Charles Perrault’s story of Cendrillon– and finally, we can analyse the meaning behind Cinderella’s name. I guess at least the latest film that was released by Disney in 2015 made the etymology quite plain, for cinder obviously refers to the fact that her face is smeared with ashes from her daily hard work. In French, cinder means “cendre” and in German it translated to “Asche”; thus Aschenputtel in Grimms’ collection.

In Perrault’s tale, her father marries a new woman after his former wife’s death. Of course, the new step-mother and step-sisters are illtreating the lovely Cendrillon who accepts all of it very meekly. It is also explicitly mentioned that her father does not dare to counter his new dominating wife. Perrault also firstly introduces a fairy god-mother to assist Cendrillon. However, unlike Disney, Cendrillon actually helps her godmother by proposing that they could transform a rat into the coachman for her carriage that will take her to her ball. Also, in the French tale, Cendrillon goes several times to the ball and even interacts with her step-sisters giving them oranges and lemons from the prince. In the end, she even forgives her sisters for their degrading behaviour. As the new queen, she allows them to live with her and her prince in the castle.

In their collection of tales from 1812, the Grimm Brothers have somewhat stripped Aschenputtel of the little autonomy that she possessed in earlier tales. The tale opens at the deathbed of Aschenputtel’s mother who urges her child to stay a good person- a quality that confines her to meek acceptance and passivity. The affection of her mother remains the only human love in the tale. Aschenputtel’s father is alive throughout the entire tale but never intervenes when his daughter is so terribly exploited by his new wife, nor is there a fairy god-mother to help her. Instead, her animal friends and the magic tree that Aschenputtel plants on her mother’s grave are in charge of her fantastical transformation.

There are two somewhat gruesome aspects about the Grimms’ version. First of all, they ask the reader to dispose of their feminist lens once and for all, for the prince is an exemplary patriarch. During the ball he orders every other interested man to go away since Cinderella is dancing with him- and him alone. He also twice mistakes the step-sisters for Cinderella. Again, her animal helpers need to intervene and tell the prince to fetch the right bride. The Grimms also added some bodily mutilation into their tale. The first sister cuts off her big toe to make the glass slipper fit and the second sister squeezes her heel into the shoe until blood seeps from it. The final horrific ending has been cut out in some versions: at Cinderella’s and the prince’s wedding, doves haunt down her step-mother and sisters and peck out their eyes.

I don’t know if you noticed but in all of these tales the shoe is a crucial trope- it is the determinant of whom the prince marries. Many scholars have discussed the sexual connotations behind Cinderella’s tiny foot and her glass slipper that is said to have the length of the Duke’s index finger. Marina Warner for example notes that “it promises that what is hidden and not known can be beautiful if beheld in the right spirit(Beast 204). A far more provocative interpretation holds that finding the right foot to the shoe hints at Cinderella’s virginity and thus her appeal to become the prince’s righteous bride. Another huge point of feminist criticism is Cinderella’s meek passiveness- which according to critics has been maximised in the early Disney film version from the fifties.

I would say that Disney made up for their somewhat sexist faux-pas with their newer re-writing from 2015, starring Lily James as Cinderella and of course the unforgettable Helena Boham Carter as her fairy godmother. Cinderella and the prince meet each other as equals, as it were, on horseback in the woods prior to the ball. Their love relationship is much more developed and in the end, one could question if Cinderella’s foot did really impact his choice that much or if it was just more of a symbolic move from the prince’s side.

I hope you enjoyed this brief but eye-opening history of Cinderella. If you have any good re-writing recommendations for me, please comment below.

Alright my friends, I wish you a fantastic week,


Why women play a central role in fairy tales (first part)


Scheherazade is probably best known for her fascinating story telling that literally saves lives. Each night, she ensnares King Shahrayar in her narrative web and thus saves her own as well as the lives of many other virgins.

Women have always played a central role in fantastic story telling. Before the first tales emerged in print in the 17th century, they were disseminated through oral story telling. The well-known expression “old wives’ tale” stresses the close connection between elderly women and their fanciful narrations. But also the repetition of nurse rhymes helped to attach story telling to the female realm. The literary ringleaders of the genre such as Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm Brothers based their fairy tales on the oral versions that circulated in their lives and that have survived many generations of listeners. The earliest version of Perrault’s fairy tale collection even bore the title “Mother Goose Tales”.

As so often, the dominant understanding of fairy tales’ origins shuts women out of the picture, whereby female writing was crucial in bringing the tales to the page. In the late seventeenth century in France, a group of women writers came together to compile their collection of tales and thereby, to engage in the intellectual discourse from which they were excluded. It is especially intriguing that one of these female conteuses was Perrault’s cousin, called Mlle Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villandon.

Fairy tales offered a space for female experimentation outside the rather restrictive set of social values. Similar to the wardrobe that leads to Narnia, women writers were intrigued by the fantastic, irrational and escapist realm.

In From the Beast to the Blonde, fairy tale expert Marina Warner eloquently summarises the central role of fairy tales for female story tellers:

“These tales are wrapped in fantasy and unreality, which no doubt helped them entertain their audiences- in the courtly salon as well as in the village hearth- but they also serve the stories’ greater purpose, to reveal possibilites, to map out a different way and a new perception of love, marriage, women’s skills, thus advocating a means of escaping imposed limits and prescribed destiny.”

Even today, fairy tales remain a genre of interest for many female writers. Angela Carter’s collection of feminist fairy tale re-writings exemplifies how women still use the fantastic genre to voice their socio-political concerns.

As long as women keep on telling, the fairy tale will migrate across borders, from generation to generation, broadening its female audience and conteuses.

Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (spoiler-free)

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Next week on 23 April, the short list of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 will be announced! I’m so happy that one of my favourite reads of this year is featured on the long list: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

To be entirely honest, I was first and foremost attracted to the book because of its sparkly cover that mixes eighteenth century silks with mermaid tails. And secondly, because I was still on the hunt for a suitable primary reading for my thesis. Even if I have a secret preference for short books, I devoured the 486 pages.

The story takes place in raw Georgian London. Jonah Hancock, a merchant from Deptford, is given a mermaid corpse in exchange for one of his ships. With strong links to showman entertainments, the mermaid becomes the new marvel of London and Mr Hancock is overflown with wealth. Mrs Chappell, the matriarchal owner of an elite brothel in West London, hires the mermaid to showcase at one of her opulent parties. During the party, Mr Hancock encounters the beautiful Angelica Neal, a recent widow and former courtesan in Mrs Chappell’s salon.

Apart from merging two contrasting parts of Georgian London, I absolutely adored how Gowar brought in the mermaid. Unlike one might expect, the mermaid(s) does not take an active role in the narrative. The first mermaid is a carcass and the second mermaid appears to be more of a conceptual entity than a creature. Nonetheless, her presence deeply impacts the characters’ moods and even pushes them to undergo a catharsic awakening, as it were.

Gowar helped to construct a new understanding of the mermaid which does not subscribe to an objectification of the female ideal- which we so often encounter in other rewritings. For once, it’s not about her bare breasts, long hair and big eyes. There are, though, highly sexualised mermaids in Mrs Chappell’s brothel. Yet, it should be clear to the reader, or at least I read these eroticised women as a sarcastic parade of men’s constructed feminine ideals.

The second “real” mermaid that enters the scene encompasses something that is intangible to the human, rational mind- and yet, Gowar somehow manages to capture it with her words…

My only problem with the book was the pacing. Some chapters felt a bit aimlessly constructed, whereas towards the end of the novel, I found myself craving for more.

An outstanding strength is Gowar’s poetic writing. The narrative is a balm for every word artist. The brief melodious interludes which appear to be mermaid songs and a plurality of female echoes resonate from afar and are not really part of the narrative, although, somehow they seem to align with other mermaids in the deep waters.

If you’re looking for an elegant historical fiction that convinces with its vivid historical details and eloquent language and picks up one of my favourite fairy tale figures, this is my top pick for you!

I wish you a happily ever after reading experience,



Why, hello there!


Hi, you out there, and welcome to my blog! Since you’re here, I hope to share my passion with you. This blog is all about our past and on-going fascination with fairy tales, where they come from, how they started, recurring themes and why they have stayed with us for hundreds and hundreds of years. Together, we’ll venture through the fantastic realms in literature, wander over stages and look at movie screens- and hopefully, I’ll ensnare you with my reviews and share some of my knowledge about fairy tales!

In this first post, I’d like to tell you a bit about myself and why I decided to start this blog. You could say that at the moment I dedicate a huge part of my life to fairy tales, more precisely to the figure of the mermaid. I’m doing a research master in comparative literature and I chose to write my thesis on the complexity of the mermaid figure. As you might expect, it’s a massive project and I’m pretty much all day bent over my books.

Now, before I even knew that the mermaid would become the focus of my research, I spent hours researching fairy tales in general. And the world I discovered was mesmerising to say the least… I was astonished how complex certain tales are and how closely tied they are to their tellers’ society and culture. Another intriguing discovery is women’s central role in fairy tales- as tellers and as characters! But I’m getting ahead here of myself…

Perhaps I should add that I’m not entirely new to blogging. In fact, I’ve been blogging since five years (Oh time, where have you gone…). Being super passionate about healthy food options, I wrote down my thoughts on vegan food and travel destinations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very passionate about good food and travelling- but I’m sure that there are many people who are better educated on that subject matter. In that respect, I’m happy to bring my own expertise outside the library and into the world wide net.

Alright, my friends that’s it for the first blog post! I hope you’ll enjoy it and oh, one last thing: for those who don’t like to read, I’ll soon launch a podcast for Once Upon a Different Time!

See you in a different time,


What’s your favourite fairy tale?