THE JUNIPER TREE by Barbara Comyns


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From the author of Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's and The Vet's Daughter: a gruesome and emotionally erratic story--like the Grimm fairy tale of the same title--with a narrative that's languid yet jarring, ranging from fecund, pastoral scenes to defacements, sudden deaths, and madness. Our unhappy narrator, the scar-faced Bella, trudges up a quiet London street to a job interview and is transfixed by the sight of the fair ice-queen, Gertrude, who is abstractedly peeling an apple in the falling snow. Gertrude cuts her hand and red blood drops onto the snow. Through a series of coincidences, Bella lands a job in a cozy antique-shop nearby; and from there, she and her illegitimate, mulatto daughter are initiated into the wealthy, luminous, and enchanted world of Gertrude's friendship, her beautiful garden with its juniper tree, her idyllic marriage, and her ecstatic pregnancy after 16 years of infertility. Here the reader is lulled by the sumptuously detailed months, nine of them, filled with flowers, antiques, delicious foods, luxurious clothes, and the happy anticipation of the child. Implausibly, Gertrude dies--bleeds to death--giving birth to a perfect, snow-white and rose-red boy; eventually Bella marries Gertrude's stiff, pedantic widower; through her negligence, the fair little boy dies horribly in an accident involving some red apples and a heavy antique trunk with a metal lock; she surreptitiously buries the child under the juniper tree with his mother's ashes, and then goes mad. Actually a decoupage of themes from the Grimm tales (a huge carved bear, a wicked ""Frau Trude,"" who ""burns away"" the visiting girl, and of course the recurring--and sexual--imagery of red and white), the novel nevertheless achieves a life of its own, and allows Bella to emerge at last from her ordeal with a feminist, fertile, happy, fairy-tale ending. Hypnotic and enthralling in the process.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1986
ISBN: 0312302193
Publisher: St. Martin's