Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fairy post #6 - review of "Let Down Your Hair"

Fey News, Events:

Jackie Kerin with Kamishibai

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“I could see will-o’-the-wisps winking on and off like ten thousand fireflies, as their light threaded through the high grass and willow trees that grew in the small island in the stream.”

(Shen Fu, The Old Man of the Moon, 1809)

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PAVE Festival, Emerald

- ‘Tantalising Tales’
Thursday 9th April 2015, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Stories and activities for primary school children including a ‘Kamishabi’ presentation; an ancient Japanese storytelling tradition meaning ‘paper drama’, 
with award-winning writer & raconteur Jackie Kerin.
Emerald Community House,
356-358 Belgrave-Gembrook Road, Emerald

- 'Literary Liaisons’
Monday 13th April 2015, 7:30pm
Hosted by JJ (John Sheills) Retailer of Tales, featuring the talents of storyteller Cora Zon, a pair of dancers, a trio of musicians and a classical singer...a meld of music, dance & light show;
a celebration in spoken word: fairy tales of a monsoon donkey & magic garden!
The Gem Community Theatre, 
19 Kilvington Drive, Emerald

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The Monash Fairy Tale Salon 

13th June, Glen Eira Storytelling Festival
Celebrating 150th Anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Glen Eira Town Hall, Caulfield 

And your cards are all blowing away in a Marmalade Parade

(Louisa John-Krol, from the song Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers)

2000 (sold out) Prikosnovenie, French fairy label

“So they had to fall a long way...” So says the Gryphon, after the Mock Turtle has sung the Lobster Quadrille for Alice. 

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly...From the first chapter, 'Down the Rabbit- Hole', as Alice tumbles into Wonderland. 

(Tributes to Lewis Carroll)

And while we're on the theme of falling, let's envisage some very long hair tumbling down a very tall tower indeed...

Let Down Your Hair 

Review of "Let Down Your Hair"

novel by Fiona Price
review by Louisa John-Krol

(Readers are also invited to visit post #2 of this fairy tale blog for my interview with the author.)

Let Down Your Hair by Fiona Price is crisp, cheeky, savvy, daring, wiry, perky and exceedingly clever. A worthy successor to the legacy of one of my favourite fairy tales, it bears an unapologetic, ruthless grace, like a blade slicing through platitudes. 

Sage Rampion’s name hints at the herbs of Rapunzel, as in Giambattista Basile’s Petrosinella (little parsley) of the 1600’s, re-spun as Persinette in 1697 by Charlotte-Rose de La Force, inspiring generations of retelling, e.g. recently by Kate Forsyth in Bitter Greens. In this story space we glimpse a line of herb-gathering hags and incarcerated maidens, who struggle to reconcile intellectual freedom (and its claimants, such as a feminist intelligentsia) with voluptuous sensual bliss, itself a paradox of roses and thorns; and beyond this, reaches boldly for shades of doubt in between, those secret paths or little-trod lanes of depiction, in which gender self-consciousness seeks liberation from its own pre-conceived identity: “I waded through the feathery weeds” (chapter 27), a contemporary mire of doubt and suspicion like the “whiff of fennel” in the salon (chapter 33). Woodland fairy tale foliage later turns up as moss and ferns (chapter 42, Watershed). 

In chapter 1, the protagonist leans out of a window in response to a man who has been posing naked in a life-drawing class. Her gesture is prompted by a complex mixture of curiosity, warning and regret, for having inadvertently set her grandmother Andrea - an academic feminist tartar - upon him. He, Ryan Prince, glances up at her and their eyes meet. In that moment, at the closing line of this first chapter, we see the book title playing out with unmistakeable Rapunzel credentials: “The hairnet holding my bun together came free, and my hair spilled out the window, rippling in the wind like a long, pale scarf made of silk.” References to hair are sprinkled throughout the book, centred upon Sage’s own - “though I might let it grow” (chapter 3); “I twisted it into a rope” (chapter 20) - there is also a rope-off function room (chapter 34) - extending to the more wiry hair of Ryan, plus wigs, extensions and hairpieces (chapter 20 and the salon of chapter 33, cheekily entitled “By Extension”), dreadlocks, retro curls, pinned braids, a disembodied ponytail and even the fake beard of Santa. 
At times, hair and tears converge within a metaphor, as when Sage’s hair pours onto the futon “like a sea of spilt champagne (chapter 9); “My new hair rippled like a sheet of golden water” (chapter 33).
Speaking of gold: allusions to the golden hue of fairy tale hair recur throughout the book through lavish command of colour: a ginger cat, burning caramel, a mouth that gapes like a goldfish, a gold star in a notebook, the gold brass of a lock and a carved number 1, gold nameplates, gold embossed handwriting, bubbly champagne, a gold coin, a brass pole for dancing, the softer blonde broken halo of her mother’s Emmeline’s hair and the translucent gold of her fingernails.

Pristine references to the classic motif of Healing Tears abound: a rubber band “landed in my palm like a rain drop” (chapter 2); “I pressed my fingers into my welling eyes and fumed” (chapter 3); “the strange ache flooded up my throat and spilled down my face in an unexpected wash of tears” (chapter 6); “pain welled again, like hot liquid poison trickling down the walls of my stomach” (chapter 40); abundant descriptions of eyelashes, eyelids, blinking, lenses, glasses, even safety goggles (a joke about the can of mace that Andrea sprays into Ryan’s eyes); “peripheral vision” (chapter 9); and the tinkling of paint-brushes in a water-glass (chapter 42). The optical theme is expanded to include concentration - “I forced my eyes to focus” (chapter 15) - as well as betrayal: “a treacherous sea of history”; also  a spin on frames in the sense of how we perceive reality: “So did he choose the frames, or you?” (chapter 16); “a loud wave of music” (chapter 35); and an ever-increasing need to avoid the watching eye of Andrea. 

Briars and brambles of the fairy tale forest are invoked in a contemporary context by the “busy, gnarled trees” of the library lawns (chapter 8), which become “spiky purple shadows” - like thorns - in the subsequent chapter.

Several fairy tale creatures appear, as similes or poetic metaphors, such as “a cake tin in the shape of a frog” (chapter 45) and “the leather couches were hunched like ogres against a tapestry of stars” (chapter 36). There is also a charming allusion to the French children’s novel The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And it would be remiss not to mention the inclusion of pregnancy and birth, no less with twins: another reference to Rapunzel, particularly in the independence with which the heroine delivers them before reuniting with her prince.

By part IV, Sage has come into her own, instructing young women in an art class on the transience and misconceptions of beauty. In chapter 45 Ryan Prince recognises her as “sagacious”. The castle he lovingly builds her is made of fruit with cantaloupe bricks, figs like edible minarets, moats of blueberries, honey-dew grass and apple-slice cobblestones. It is also in this segment of the book that its female protagonists strive for a meeting of minds, a compromise or reconciliation, if not perfect resolution. There remain, by the author’s intention, questions for mothers to ask as to how to raise their daughters amidst competing pressures: on the one hand, the rigorous demands of post-feminist academia; on the other, lurid objectification of female bodies. Fiona Price has successfully ramped up both extremes in this story to illustrate this polarity. Both forces are rampant. Therein lies the magical tension in Sage Rampion’s name.

I enjoy the symmetry of structure: four parts marked by Roman numerals I to IV, each title commencing with the definite article that highlights their solidity: The Ivory Tower; The Golden Tower; The Wilderness; The Castle. They signal variant forms of imprisonment - even wilderness, for being lost is a limitation, where boundlessness becomes the ultimate boundary, manifesting in unbridled relativism; as Terry Eagleton has argued in The Illusions of Postmodernism, once we dismiss all morality as merely relative, we can abdicate from any moral responsibility for anything, thus may permit atrocity without condemnation. Yet this novel is not didactic. It is questioning. That haunting, gnawing anxiety is one of its many attributes.

There are many witty, memorable lines that I won't quote, since part of their charm is their unexpectedness and speed. 

By contrast, it took me a while to resolve a technical glitch with Kindle Cloud. Now I can't stop. Way to drag me into a brave new century! My eyeballs are grateful for enlargeable font. That being said, I still love printed books, so if someone publishes it in that form, I’ll gladly buy it all over again. Meanwhile, I’ll be ramping up sage sprigs for many a brew.

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