Thank you to the lovely people at Harper Books for my copy of What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine. All thoughts and images are my own.
Title: What Should Be Wild
Author: Julia Fine
Pub date: May 8, 2018
Read if you like: Gregory Maguire, Pushing Daisies, and dark fairy tales.
This book is a really interesting combination of fantasy and science, anthropology and philosophy. Even the narrative shifts between two opposites: the stories of Maisie, our cursed heroine, feel modern despite their isolated, rural setting, and the stories of the women in the woods feel ancient. The ethereal aesthetic of ghosts and sprites is juxtaposed with the coldness of medicine, the darkness and unpredictability of the forest contrasted with the bleak cement walls of a prison.
This was a slow burn of a read for me – after the first 40 pages, I wasn’t completely inspired. But by page 60, I was completely sucked in. I’m not sure I liked this book, I definitely didn’t love it, but I could not put it down after that point. I needed to know what would happen.
There are elements of this story that felt cliche, but I am not sure how much of that Fine intended to seem familiar, as fairy tales often employ similar mechanisms of storytelling. For example, there where a number of moments where Maisie’s naivete regarding the outside world (and the men of the outside world) was eye roll inducing. But isn’t that an archetype of fairy tales in the first place? The main character must be somewhat naive in order to make their transformation into a proactive person that much more striking? I’m still ruminating over how that trope plays out in this novel.
SYNOPSIS: (AS TOLD BY THE BACK OF THE BOOK)
Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest.
Maisie’s father – an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter – has warned her not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for millennia her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge – for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.
But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and she must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, Maisie encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.