Aside from the subject matter, Lissar's interior monologuing is too long-winded at times, and McKinley's penchant for nightmarish, incomprehensible scenes gets full play here (twice, in fact!). Maybe I'll just reread the parts with the puppies and skip the rest.
Halfway through, the writing is beautiful, exquisite, but circles around and repeats itself so often I was on page 90 before anything had actually happened, which would be fine, except for the hazy treatment of rape and incest. Boring is a mild word for it - I've never read anything that dragged, and dragged, and dragged for 300 pages and repeated the same sentiments so often.
Based on Perrault's "Donkeyskin" Deerskin is the story of princess Lissla Lissar, daughter of the most beautiful woman in the world.
I also felt that the message of the book was important; You can survive sexual abuse, even thou it changes you irrevocably, it is possible to live despite it. It was a story that was meant to speak to girls and women trapped in sexually abusive relationships with men who had complete power over them. Another reviewer stated that "McKinley's view of trauma - rape, incest, miscarriage - is absolute crap and offensive to people who have actually been through those things. She told the story very well, as she thought of it; unfortunately all the sentiments were contrived and false." Being a surviver of familial CSA I find this sort of commentary absolute crap and offensive. If a novel is factually incorrect or it treats major traumas like no big deal then by all means rip the author to shreds. What was particularly baffling for me with regard to this criticism is that McKinley speaks in metaphors about very, very common responses to sexual abuse- by blocking it from your mind and the very common result- complete social isolation and crippling, self- imposed loneliness. Returning Deerskin's body to it's "unspoiled" state, was an example of where over- romanticising the perfect female form ran counter to the theme and tone of the book. There were a few other minor problems with the book, it was repetitive, and I think it would be rather too charitable to assume McKinley did this deliberately. Although dealing with CSA can often feel endless and repetitive, I don't think she genuinely intended for the novel to sometimes feel that way.
Throughout her childhood Lissar is told stories of the magical fairytale wooing of her mother, the most beautiful woman in the seven kingdoms, by her father, one of the seven suitors who had to go to the ends of the earth to win her. Well, I'm just going to put it out there (although I do feel like there must be something wrong with me for not liking the book more) I found this story pretty dull. I don't know if it was because I knew exactly what was going to happen from the very start (but what did I expect, this is a fairy tale retelling?) or if it was the deliberately languid quality of the prose in which McKinley chooses to tell her tale that didn't quite work for me. And I know that this is exactly how it would be, that it couldn't really be anything else, but it was dull for me to read about a person who is simply pulled like a puppet on a string without any rhyme or reason throughout most of the book.
Princess Lissla Lissar is the daughter of a heroic and handsome king, who won the hand of the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. Every night, Lissar listens to her nursemaid spin the same tale - the story of her father, winning her mother's hand over the other six Kings by completing an impossible, superhuman task. Every day and every night, Lissar hears the story of her mother's incredible beauty and her father's heroic deeds, and how much everyone in the kingdom loves their royal leaders. Here, Lissar makes a new life for herself - but she will be forced to confront her past once and for all, with a future of hope and happiness waiting for her. But beyond the setting, the telling, and the world, Deerskin is really a book that comes down to a horrific story, and a young woman's stubborn will to live. Like a nightmare, the next years of her young life unfold with her always pulling away from her father's notice, until it comes to a crashing, horrific climax following her seventeenth birthday. Because as dark and horrific as the first part of the story is, as Lissar flees her old life and begins to heal and gradually comes to confront her past, it's an amazing and empowering arc.
The turning point begins when her mother dies and she receives a puppy as a gift of condolence from Prince Ossin whom she names Ash. Her Dad, crazy with grief over the loss of his Queen, turns into a nutcase and completely forgets he has daughter for several years. Then one day her dad remembers he has a daughter & decides it is time for her to marry & start producing an heir. The scenes with the puppy rearing, Lissar's eventual opening up to Prince Ossin & the magical, mystical qualities of the story make this a must read. Lissar's dog Ash is the glue that holds her together through good times and bad.
If it weren't for the dogs, I'm not sure I could've read it. I got up and cleaned my kitchen, walked the dogs, cast around for some light hearted simple minded book to read. I'd put it aside right after the rape and his killing of her beloved dog. The rest of the book is about her healing, and her recovery, and the way she comes into her own power.
For example, she read Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book for the first time in California; The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in New York; The Lord of the Rings for the first time in Japan; The Once and Future King for the first time in Maine. Since then she has lived in Boston, on a horse farm in Eastern Massachusetts, in New York City, in Blue Hill, Maine, and now in Hampshire, England, with her husband Peter Dickinson (also a writer, and with whom she co-wrote Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits in 2001) and two lurchers (crossbred sighthounds).