Beauty - Robin McKinley

This is one of those books I am almost ashamed to admit I don't love.


It's not badly written. It is one of my favorite fairy tales retold. Everyone else seems to love it and talk about it introducing them to fairy tale retellings and fantasy and causing them to find joy in reading for the first time. And yet it never really clicked for me.


This is not the first time I attempted to read it. I tried (and failed) to make it through several times over the last decade or so. There was never really anything wrong with it. I wasn't annoyed by the characters or the setting. The writing is fine, even lovely in some places. I just never quite manage to connect with anything and I ended up getting bored and needing to return it to the library before I bothered finishing. I did make it through it this time, but I am not sure if I really enjoyed it a whole lot.


The plot starts off very slow. The first two parts of the novel are devoted to set-up and character development, with no mention of the Beast almost at all. I wouldn't mind this if I managed to fall in love with any of the characters, but I don't. I feel a vague sense of sadness that something kind of bad has happened to the family, but that is the extent of the emotion and caring that the first two parts of the story evokes in me: a sort of "Oh, well, that's too bad. What a shame."


Beauty is an enigma, even after growing up with her and watching her fall in love. She is terrified when she leaves for the Beast's castle, we are told. She is deeply saddened when the Beast is near death, we are told. I don't feel any of that. Everything is so restrained. How am I supposed to care deeply if no one in the book really seems to manage?


Writing this, I went ahead and docked a star because I am not at all comfortable saying "I liked it." It is probably better written than an awful lot of stuff I have given three stars to, but those I at least felt sucked into during the course of reading; this I never did. I wanted to like it. I tried to like it. I was waiting with open arms for it to make me feel something besides ambivalence. I never quite managed.