Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Historical Fiction Review: ‘The Wild Girl’ by Kate Forsyth

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Once there were six sisters. The pretty one, the musical one, the clever one, the helpful one, the young one…and then there was the wild one. 

Dortchen Wild has loved Wilhelm Grimm since she was a young girl. Under the forbidding shadow of her father, the pair meet secretly to piece together a magical fairy tale collection. The story behind the stories of the Brothers Grimm.

Review

I don’t have a clue how I’m going to convey to you how truly wonderful The Wild Girl is so if this degenerates into an incoherent rambling, at least you know that I loved it.  Really loved it.

The first 100 or so pages are a little bit slow and there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Dortchen has five sisters and there are a whole host of Grimms and other characters to keep tabs on.  If you don’t have a reasonable grasp of European History in the early nineteenth century (as I didn’t), getting up to speed on what Napoleon was up to at the time took me a while.  The pace does pick up, though, and somehow, without ever feeling as though I was being lectured or that the story was being interrupted by historical interludes, I came away from reading The Wild Girl feeling as though I was actually no longer completely clueless about Napoleon’s quest for world domination anymore.  A heck of a lot of time must have gone into making this novel so full of detail and atmosphere; a terrific example of how rewarding great historical fiction can be to read.

Now you might think that picking up a book about fairytales would be all whimsy, flowers and friendly woodland creatures.  You’d be wrong.  One of the things that make the Grimm brothers’ fairytales so powerful is their potential to be very dark.  As The Wild Girl follows Wilhelm Grimm while he gathers his collection, there are plenty of nods to traditional story-telling with tales told around flickering fires and across flagons of ale.  Rather than the charming stories of princesses and fairies that many of us will remember from our childhood, these were cautionary tales about the gloomier, more sinister side of humanity.

The Wild Girl echoes the old stories and doesn’t shy away from darkness and really doesn’t pull any punches.  The story is challenging and bleak at times, tackling issues of domestic abuse in a completely unflinching way and exploring the emotional and psychological damage sustained abuse can cause, all while painting a dreary picture of life during war, both for the soldiers that have to do and see such terrible things and for the families that they leave behind. There’s always just a little spark of hope as the characters find solace in sharing stories but this book is by no means an easy ride.  The writing is just perfect and somehow manages to be both unswerving and direct but elegant in its way.  Perhaps its the combination of the harsh reality of living through war and the magic feeling of the fairytales.

What is really clever about The Wild Girl is how its tone always seems to match the mood and experiences of the characters.  There’s a real shift as the hopeful and spirited Dortchen of the earlier chapters is ground down by her miserable home life and her aspirations and dreams fading as she ages.  I didn’t even realise how deftly my emotions were being manipulated until I reached the last hundred pages or so.  I flew through them in a blur, gripping my book ridiculously tightly, stomach clenched and eyes brimming with tears.  I so badly wanted everything…even just something to work out for Dortchen that my heart hurt.  

I could go on and on about how much I loved Dortchen, how even relatively insignificant parts of the story were lavished with care and attention (like Herr Wild’s “medical practice”) and how much I adored Wilhelm Grimm and his family and some of Dortchen’s sisters (the musical one and the clever one being my personal favourites).  Instead, I’ll just say that this book is very powerful and so, so completely fabulous and you must read it.  Really, you must.

Overall:  I can’t recommend The Wild Girl enough.  A gut-wrenching read of the best kind and one that had me hankering to pull out my own collection of the Grimms’ fairytales and get lost in their peculiar brand of macabreness.   Perfect for an Autumn evening tucked up by the fire, you need a copy of this book.

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Date finished:  05 August 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Received from the publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
Genre:  Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Allison & Busby on 22 July 2013

Fancy having a look at what other bloggers had to say about The Wild Girl?  You can catch up with the rest of the tour HERE or visit Kate Forsyth’s WEBSITE and BLOG for more information. You can also find her on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER