Books 2009: Gregory Maguire - Wicked.

First book read in 2009: Gregory Maguire's Wicked which is a retelling of "The Wizard of Oz" from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch. It read a bit like really decent fanfiction in the sense that it subverted canon, told the story via a secondary character and fleshed out the world of Oz (like, just how did they build the Yellow Brick Road and why?). Like much fanfiction, the book also adds a healthy dollop of sexuality to a familiar story.

Did I like it? If it had been fanfiction - i.e. self-published fiction by someone whose day-job does not involve literature - I would have sung its praise because it is clever, inventive and does a marvellous job at humanising a character who's cardboard Evil in the original book. But it's not the work of a smart fan. "Wicked" is professionally published, has a John-Updike-in-the-New-Yorker recommendation on the front cover and its author talks about his book being a parable for the Vietnam war. This is where I begin to have serious reservations.

"Wicked" simply isn't good enough for that sort of pretension. It's a fun read with its fair share of structural and characterisation problems (most of which are forgiveable, admittedly, except for the middle third of the book which is one big mess) but it does not go any deeper than that. Maguire sets up quite a few interesting points - the distinction between Animals/animals; attitude towards sexuality; the divide and interdependence of science/religion - and completely fails to follow up on these points. Other Half has another two Maguire books set in Oz. I will be reading them at some point, but I'm not in any rush.

Related: Gregory Maguire reimagines "The Little Match Girl" for NPR.