the marsh king's daughter

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

I encountered a couple of frustrations with this interesting novel that just barely tipped it back to three stars. It really is a high three stars, though!

Retellings of dark fairy tales are some of my favourite novels to discover. Here we have a Hans Christian Andersen story imagined from the point of view of a woman who was the child of a man and the twelve year old he kidnapped and held hostage for 14 years. 

The book opens as her father escapes from prison, and Helena immediately and understandably panics. Her immediate concern is keeping her husband and two daughters safe; next she desires to recapture her father and return him to prison. 

Although the main contemporary narrative is about this cat-and-mouse of Helena's attempts to find her father, the true story here is about how a child borne of such a violent and frightening and destructive union can grow up viewing such a father in a very, very different way than her mother (his victim) does. It's a fascinating psychological examination of that often told explanation that whatever environment a child grows up in is their normal.

I certainly enjoyed the story. Explanations of wilderness living and survival were fantastic. I was enthralled by the psychological and emotional ramifications of the "family" when Helena and her mother were held captive, but found adult Helena's pursuit of her father somewhat flat and oftentimes frustrating. 



It was less the love and devotion Helena still retained for her father (that was in large part the whole point of the story, even if it was often maddening), and more her actions and decisions that, at least a couple of times, almost made me put down the book. A couple of examples: her reaction when she first learns of her father's escape, and also where she has chosen to live. In the first, she's out of the house when she hears of the escape on the radio. So she rushes her two young daughters home and immediately locks the doors despite that no one ever locks their doors around here and worries that her escaped father might be heading for their home. BUT THEN SHE BLITHELY LETS HER DAUGHTERS OUTSIDE INTO THE YARD TO PLAY. She sort of vaguely worries about them, and when she hears a shriek, she sits and listens for a moment, trying to determine if it's just two little girls playing or whether it could signal her father's arrival. What. The. Hell. Second, she goes to great pains to explain that she completely changed her look over the last dozen years her father was in prison, changed her name, got married, was very careful to keep off social media and the general radar of her community. Some of this is explained as a need for privacy after the sensational story of her childhood, but much if it is also explained as a need to keep her and her family safe by not tipping her father off about how to find her. BUT SHE ALSO LIVES ON HER FATHER'S (DECEASED) PARENTS' PROPERTY. She's fully aware that he must be aware that the property was willed to her. Again, you've GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. At first I took these weird elements as possible signals on the part of Dionne that perhaps we shouldn't trust the protagonist's motives, but I didn't end up convinced that this was the intention. I mean, even if she intended to help her father as the police wondered, it would've been nearly impossible to convince me that a mother of two young daughters would've intentionally left them out like bait for a pedophile who'd just escaped from prison by killing two men. Regardless of how she felt about him as her father. It was very frustrating.

This is my first book by Dionne and despite the elements detailed in the spoiler above (they're not terribly spoiler-y but are probably enough for a warning), I would definitely read her again.