Thursday, December 3, 2009

Matchless - Gregory Maguire


Each year, National Public Radio asks a writer to compose a story with a Christmas theme. In 2008, Gregory Maguire offered a new twist on a classic tale, reinventing the Hans Christian Andersen classic "The Little Match Girl."

When the story was first translated from Danish and published in England in the mid-nineteenth century, the match girl's dying visions of lights and a grandmother in heaven were often interpreted as metaphors of religious salvation. In Matchless, Maguire adds a different dimension to the story, intertwining the match girl's tale with that of a young boy, Frederik, whose own yearnings are the catalyst for a better future for himself and his family. Maguire uses his storytelling magic to rekindle Andersen's original intentions and to suggest transcendence, the permanence of spirit, and the continuity that links the living and the dead. (Publisher comments as posted on

My Review: First things - before reading this review, but more importantly, the book you should familiarize yourself with the story of "The Little Match Girl." The easiest way to do so is by watching this short Disney peice - The Little Match Girl.

The beauty of this book is its pacing. Though the content of the story is at minimum, young adult level, it is a short, quick read and told with one or two sentences a page, accompanied by a simple illustration. If it were printed out with no page breaks I would have begun skimming immediately - thats the curse of a speedy reader. However with this story the process was much more cathartic and delightful. Read a few words, glance at the picture, turn the page; repeat. I realize now that perhaps this is why I liked "Tale of Despereaux" as well. Telling a story with few words takes infinitely more talent than using as many as possible.

I was unfamiliar with the Hans Christian Anderson story this tale was based on but after brushing up on my fairy tale knowledge I think that the original story and this expanded version merge seamlessly, although in a heartbreaking way. The story has the typical Maguire-esque crisp realism, colored with sadness as well as hope.

My Review: 4.5 stars

Sum it up: It's not the usual sugarplummy Christmas story but rings true if your life is filled with both heartbreak and hope.

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