A Review of Cautionary Tales: Voices from the Edges, by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

I’d like to invite you to read a collection of wonderful tales inspired by Eastern European and Russian folk tradition.  While it does represent a rather sharp divergence from the tone and style of her first work, it is no less lush or richly written.  Emmanuelle is an authoress I deeply admire, and a lady I’m proud to know.  Consider paying her goodreads page a visit and learning more about these delicious, if chilling, cautionary tales.



29366982When I first began reading this collection, I felt at home. The stories take a narrative form and elements from the Slavic tradition, whence come many of our most treasured fairy tales. The characters were earthy, and simply delineated. Though they were not imbued with complex desires or deeply layered motives, they served their purpose eloquently–to caution against the panoply of human folly and action within a cultural context.

De Maupassant artfully draws the marrow from the bones of this narrative form in all its chilling, seductive majesty, liberally spicing her stories with language and metaphysical forms common amongst the cultural tales that inspired her. I found myself thoroughly engaged, and enjoyed each story, with its main characters, its demons and monsters, sketches of simple, close-knit communities, in which the repercussions of socially impolitic behavior could be dire.

My childhood is littered with memories of folktales. Commonly misnamed as fairy tales by our society, these stories were not the sanitary, Disney-fied narratives so many of us have come to think of as representative of the genre. Rather, they were dark, blood-soaked, and frankly terrifying. I’m sure you’re wondering why any parent would allow their child to read such things. The truth is that these tales were crafted for children, as well as adults. They were ways for the young to explore the consequences of behaviors that went against the prevailing social mores–greed, betrayal, infidelity, impiety, impurities of a wide array. But they also offered children a view of how they might go their own way, so long as their hearts remained pure and steadfast.

I particularly enjoyed the spirits and non-human characters, because they were not directly imbued with any sense of justice or mission of redress. They simply acted as their natures dictated, drawn by the perfume of vice and wickedness to their victims. These stories were earthy, salted with a luscious eroticism, but particularly circumspect in its presentation. They permitted me to laugh, to draw in my breath in startlement, and served as medium for meditation on how we, as humans, have utilized Story for the purposes of social equilibrium in other ways.



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