I recently saw this unabridged version of Beauty at my local library and snatched it up for a revisit. Back when I first read it I thought it worthy of five stars (I’ll add that fan girly review in at the end). Did it hold up now that I’m slightly older and far more jaded?
Yes and No.
The atmosphere and the descriptive prose is still top notch and I can see why my younger self fell in love with it but it’s not quite perfect for me this time around. I saw some weaknesses especially near the end and felt a bit distanced from Beast which I don’t recall happening the first time around. That probably comes from reading too many romances in the space between then and now though.
Beauty grew up with a doting father and two sweet sisters. Ironically as she grew she didn’t quite live up to her nickname and was considered plain, especially in comparison to her to two beautiful older sisters. She was ok with that. Instead of pining over a boy she instead fell in love with books and horses.
When financial hardship hits the family they must leave the city, the servants and everything behind to make a new life out in the country. Beauty is warned away from the forest surrounding their home because an enchanted beast is rumored to reside there. Beauty listens but unfortunately her father doesn’t get the memo. Because of his mistake he must now turn one of his daughters over to the Beast. He is distraught (he’s a kind guy, really he is) and Beauty immediately volunteers. She’s the youngest and up for an adventure and declares herself the best choice because “she’s the ugliest”. She’s also fearless and when warned that the Beast is a mighty scary specimen says, “Can not a beast be tamed?” and “I always get my own way in the end Papa.”
I liked Beauty. Who doesn’t like Beauty? She has spunk and she’s a bookworm. The Beast is intimidating but he’s also kind to her and as life goes on about the enchanted castle she learns that he’s very lonely. Each night he asks her the same question, “Will you marry me Beauty?” and each night she turns him down because she doesn’t love him that way. He is a hairy beast after all. The author does a nice job depicting Beauty’s feelings as she grows closer to Beast and depicts him in a sympathetic light despite the fact that I felt distanced from him throughout the story. And while I’m bitching, I have to admit that I really wasn’t enchanted with the ending at all. It felt rushed and underwhelming after all of the beautiful description, build up and character building throughout the story. I wanted to feel something more and was left a bit disappointed. It was a good fairytale retelling but not the five start read I remember.
Narration Notes: The narrative and Beauty’s dialogue are read with a lyrical beauty by Charlotte Parry while Beast is read with a melancholy, somewhat haughty and terse tone that suits the character well enough. But if I’m being completely honest here I would’ve preferred a sexier, growly, somewhat scarier tone for Beast.
Here’s my original “ungrouchy” five star review:
This is a retelling of the classic fantasy Beauty and The Beast. But this version has a bit of a twist, McKinley's "Beauty" doesn't quite live up to her nickname and can be more accurately described as an awkward teenager, a girl who prefers to spend her free time with books and horses. I liked her immediately. When her father accidentally stumbles upon the bewitched castle of the "Beast" he is forced into a promise that will forever change Beauty's life. To give anymore of the plot away would be to ruin the magic of the book.
BEAUTY is categorized as a children's book (10 and up) but I think it will appeal to anyone who loves a magical, sweet, old-fashioned love story. McKinley's characters are well-drawn, sympathetic and just plain lovable, right down to Beauty's charming horse. This was another one of those rare "unputdownable" books for me.