Saturday, 6 July 2019

Slipper by Hester Velmans

Slipper by Hester Velmans
Published by Van Horton Books on the 17th April 2018.

One of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Her life is the inspiration for the world’s most famous story.

Lucinda, a penniless English orphan, is abused and exploited as a cinder-sweep by her aristocratic relatives. On receiving her sole inheritance—a pair of glass-beaded slippers—she runs away to France in pursuit of an officer on whom she has a big crush. She joins the baggage train of Louis XIV’s army, survives a terrible massacre, and eventually finds her way to Paris. There she befriends the man who will some day write the world’s most famous fairy tale, Charles Perrault, and tells him her life story.

There is more: a witch hunt, the sorry truth about daydreams, and some truly astonishing revelations, such as the historical facts behind the story of the Emperor's new clothes, and a perfectly reasonable explanation for the compulsion some young women have to kiss frogs. 

This is not the fairy tale you remember

Slipper - book trailer from Ben Hillman on Vimeo.

I first read Hester Velmans' work when she translated Renate Dorrestein's novel The Darkness That Divides Us. Slipper is her own original novel and I love the concept of imagining Cinderella as a 'real' historical woman, Lucinda, whose turns of fortune could have inspired the Charles Perrault fairytale. This story is far removed from the later Disney incarnation, thank goodness! Instead we are returned to a period in Western European history when France and England are (again) at war with each other, people are regularly tortured and killed as a result of witchcraft accusations, and ethics are judged by their profitability. Velmans' dark portrayal evokes the attitudes and beliefs of the time in an shocking and authentic way. I understood I was reading a historical novel, yet delighted in spotting not only elements of Cinderella, but also nods to lots of other famous fairytales along the way.

Lucinda is a brilliantly imagined character who we follow from neglected child to world-weary woman. I appreciated seeing how she changes in response to events in her life. Slipper focuses on womens lives and cleverly manages to believably show a wide range of roles and social classes without any of the story's twists and turns feeling forced. I was impressed that Velmans got me caring deeply about Lucinda's life story even though I didn't particularly like her to begin with. I could certainly sympathise by the end. To my mind, Slipper is a memorably unusual retelling of the Cinderella fairytale and a satisfying historical fiction novel too.

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  1. What a neat idea for a story. I want to read this one.

    1. I hope you get the chance to! It's a fab Cinderella retelling :-)