Art and Literature

Does the ending have to work? Thinking about Joanne Harris’ Lollipop Shoes

-womens-shoes-red-pin-fashionFriends — I’m trying to read more self-proclaimed magical realist novels this year, so that I can be a more educated writer AND reader. I’m also interested in the debates as to what is and what is not magical realism. As you know, I made it through 100 Years of Solitude, and just finished Joanne Harris’ novel Lollipop Shoes, which was published in the UK as The Girl with No Shadow.

Lollipop is ostensibly the sequel to the better known novel Chocolat.

Spoilers ahead:

Gosh, I have mixed feelings about this novel. There’s alot to love, on one hand. It’s a book profoundly about women, about the relentless struggle between women for ONE identity and ONE little girl (and to a far lesser extent, one man). The magical element (the two women involved are witches [at least, they think they are]) allows for the expression of feelings not easily or usually articulated anywhere but in such fairy-tales as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Not coincidentally,  the novel repeatedly glosses the fairy-tale and at one point actually makes a metafictional move and tells a tale that virtually encapsulates the novel’s plot and outcome. This is the terrifying “Queen of Hearts” tale that appears near the climax of the novel.

The sense that there is not enough to go around for women permeates the story. As a result, the women of several generations are engaged in mano a mano fight to the death for whatever is at hand — in particular, other females, be they mothers, progeny or potential friends. This agonized competition is palpable and powerfully expressed.

The instability of the magically real universe is also very well done. We “think” there’s magic, but we aren’t sure. It could be everyone’s imagination. Or not.

On the other hand, there are technical problems. The story is told by 3 people — the two competing witches and the young girl. This is a great construct (I use multiple points of view in my first novel and am planning on doing something similar in the second book), but the voices must sound different in order for this to really work. At a certain point, I found myself getting a page or more into one chapter before I figured out who was talking. At times, the 11 year old sounded like the 35 year old, and this felt particularly jarring.

Another issue was the flat/rounded character issue. The “fiance” who ends up being the rejected suitor typically found in women’s novels like those of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, goes from being nice and boring to EVIL VILLAIN (who actually throws the heroine off her property in melodramatic Snidely Whiplash mode) in a way that didn’t feel believable to me. Thierry needed to change in some way that paid off how he appears for the first half of the novel. The winning suitor is — sorry — completely uninteresting.

There are similar technical and character issues with the climax. I really empathize with the author about this challenge, because I personally find plotting very very difficult. That said. there are some moves in the big party scene that didn’t make sense to me, and that I didn’t believe. I didn’t get the stolen identity gambit and how quickly it gets resolved (huh?). Second, the “good” witch’s lost mother needs to do something more active than she does in this book about mothers, anti-mothers, and daughters — biological and adopted.  Third, what of the villainess herself? She survives losing the battle, but isn’t she changed by it? It seems to me she would have to be. Her reduction at the end to “eternal trickster” felt too easy, and it wasn’t rewarding as a choice. This is a shame, because she’s a very interesting character. Finally — what about those red shoes mentioned in the title? I think of Hans Christian Andersen’s frightening fairy-tale about the dangerous red shoes….(and the classic film about them). Couldn’t that footwear do more work, than it does? Even Dorothy’s ruby slippers are a subject of struggle. That’s a missed opportunity in my view, and I felt sad when I realized the shoes were just shoes. But then, I love red shoes, so I may not be objective on this point!Tumblr_maktcq5bci1r7qhgbo1_500

This raises some interesting questions for me. How important IS the resolution of a novel? Must it work for the novel to be worth reading?  Do magical realist novels have more or less leeway with “satisfying” the reader? Or is that satisfaction necessarily different in mr?

I’m not sure I know the answers.  What do you think?

 

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for a beautiful review. What an interesting set of questions you bring up here. In my thinking, magical realism has the potential to satisfy the reader more than any other literary style because of it’s holism–it’s potential for giving a more expansive view through the lens of any genre. At the same time, if style comes first and content second, that potential gets lost. Writers can do anything they want with literature, but if the resolution or non-resolution of a story doesn’t have elements that speak to the purpose of the story, things get dicey. It might just be me, but I think all storytellers need to consider want they want the audience to take away with them, and to make that intrinsically clear in the content.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Robin. I think you make a great point when you observe that whatever it is a writer does with the ending has to — in some way — cohere with the overriding purpose or arc of questioning of the story. And you’re right, we do care about what our readers take away. What do we want to give them, and how do we — to the best of our ability — make sure they have it? Thanks again!

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