With all the reincarnations of the tale of Snow White coming out this year, I felt the urge to revisit Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same subject. In his version, Snow White is young Bianca who is left in the care of the Lucrezia Borgia after her brother Cesare sends Bianca’s father off on an impossible quest. From there, you can pretty much guess the rest. But what makes Maguire’s story so interesting is that it all feels real.
Throughout the novel, Maguire incorporates real world events (specifically the ones concerning the infamous Borgias) with the fanciful tale of Snow White. Although Maguire does note that he has taken liberties with historical facts, it still feels as though it could have happened (especially if you’re not well versed with 16th century Italian history). Of course, it is hard to be fully realistic when you involve shape-shifting dwarves, apples from the Garden of Eden, and an enchanted mirror.
Bianca is an adequate heroine, although her life of seclusion in Montefiore makes her a very naïve heroine at that. But I think the character that really brings this story to life is Lucrezia. So many rumors abound about her, and Maguire incorporates them into the storytelling (one of the characters is the child of incest conceived with her father the pope). She is a wicked and self-serving woman, but with Maguire’s sarcastic writing she is immensely fun to read about. I’m always fascinated with evil women, and the way Lucrezia manipulates the other characters is a true delight.
A less delightful aspect of the novel, though, is the revolving door of narrators. When Maguire isn’t telling the story through an omniscient narrator, he includes chapters told in first person by the characters. But the way he jumps around between narrators feels arbitrary and unnecessary. The switching of perspectives disrupts the flow of storytelling and, at times, distracted me from fully immersing myself in the story.
Despite such narrative missteps, the story remains fanciful and tantalizing. And Maguire never shies away from including sex in his stories (whether it be incestuous lust or trysts with squids), which makes his works very much adult unlike the children’s stories they are derived from. Mirror Mirror may not be Maguire’s best work, but it still gives you that Maguire fix of sarcastic humor, winking allusions, and melodrama that I’ve come to expect from his other works.