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Kids' Lit
by OR Melling

This is a retelling of the classic fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", better known as "Beauty and the Beast." Thankfully Pattou's rendering bears no resemblance to the Disney version, but is reminiscent of CS Lewis's haunting interpretation in his novella Till We have Faces (A Myth Retold). When fairy tale is translated into literary form, it either rises to the art of mythic fiction or descends into pulp fantasy. Pattou is a fine myth-maker.
The story is told through multiple first-person voices each in separate chapters entitled with the speaker's namełRose, White Bear (the enchanted prince), Rose's brother Neddy, Rose's father, a mapmaker now farmer who has fallen on hard times, and the Troll Queen who is "pale and beautiful". No mean feat to present a complicated plot in this manner! That said, my only real criticism of the book is the lack of variation amongst the voices. There were times when I had to check the heading to see who was speaking. While the content inevitably clarifies the matter, the form ideally calls for distinctive speech patterns. The Troll Queen in particular would have been better served by a greater difference between herself and the human characters. In contrast to this weakness in the writing, the White Bear's sections are ingeniously crafted in poetry. Though it was a riskłas the author admits herself, she is no poetłthe device works on many levels, both conscious and unconscious. While furthering action, character and background, the poems intensify the sense of the character being under a spell: words caught in an extraordinary arrangement reflect a man caught in an extraordinary shape.
And what a joy to find a book for young people that doesn't drag you by the hair through its plot! Breakneck narrative is undoubtedly written to appeal to the MTV generation reared on quick sound bites (to quote Lisa Simpson) and endemically disposed to attention deficit disorder. Indeed it took even my thoughtful teen reader some time to adjust to the gentler pace. Her first reactions were "too slow" and "boring", yet she perseveredłfor the romance of the tale will catch any young womanłand now deep into the story she too has declared it wonderful. I savoured every minute we lingered over the northern landscape, the skills of weaving and sailing, the making of an ice-house, the layers of myth both Norse and Inuit, as well as folklore and superstition, and the glimpses of Norwegian language and culture. All these strands are effortlessly woven like one of Rose's bright cloths.
A final word of praise (though more could be said): Contrary to the simplistic division of good and evil so characteristic of modern fantasies, Pattou keeps faith with the traditional wisdom of fairy tale which recognizes the moral complexities of human and divine natures. Though the Troll Queen is wicked, we can sympathise with her hopeless love for the prince that ultimately dooms her and her realm, and more so with little Tuki whose fate mirrors the Queen's, arising as it does from his own love for Rose. Yet these trolls are terrifying too, and no reader will forget the killing fields of kentta murha where the human servants who have outlived their use are left to die on the ice.
A final minor objection (and there are no more): While prosaic single-word titles are all the fashion at present, such a lyrical, multi-faceted and magical book deserves something better than "East"!

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