Two girls, two eggs, and Baba Yaga: Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon

Egg and Spoon by Gregory MaguireIt either sounds like a great joke or a terrible time: two girls, two eggs, a platoon of nesting dolls, and Baba Yaga. Layer the mixture onto a foundation of literary talent, and there you have it: Gregory Maguire’s latest novel.

Maguire is best known for Wicked, a novel that later turned into the hit (and perhaps better-known) musical. I read Wicked years and years ago and don’t honestly remember much about it – except that it was really, really strange and oddly sad. It’s a book I recommend, but sparingly. Maguire’s Oz is a place that has little to do with Dorothy, flirting with themes of intersexuality and familial dysfunction.

I expected the new book, Egg and Spoon, to give the same treatment to classic Russian fairy tales – spice them up with a touch of discomfort and make it impossible to look away. Instead, Maguire delivers something closer to a YA novel. If the Incredible Journey and The Prince and the Pauper had a love child which grew up reading only Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, it would be this book.

And, somehow, it works.

A plot summary: as a highbrow train passes through small-town, starving Russia, a peasant girl and an aristocrat’s daughter accidentally trade places. Elena hurtles towards the Tsar’s court to be presented to his godson as a potential bride; Cat ventures into the surrounding forest and narrowly escapes the claws of Baba Yaga. Cat holds fast to a beautiful Fabergé egg, and Elena to the egg of a Firebird. Somehow they hold the fate of Russia in their hands; they have to fix the underlying fabric of the nation by believing in its fairy tales.

Maguire made some choices that I disliked – Baba Yaga keeps cracking pop culture references, and the novel is periodically narrated by a morose monk. But his prose also has a way of hitting you right in the sternum – sweet, sharp, and sentimental in all the right places:

“The window by her seat was blotched with spots of rain dried into spearheads of dust. The world beyond – it was just a few fields right now, under the darkening sky. A farmer shrugging at snow to be cleared from a stable door. His hand on his head, scratching his hair. A donkey nearby, tied to a limp old cherry tree in no shape to bloom again. But it had to bloom again. Hold on, dear world, she thought. We’re coming.”


Share your thoughts and opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s