It's a little known fact that Wilhelm Grimm married one of the women who told him many of the fairy stories the Grimm brothers were famous for. Her name was Dortchen Wild and in The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth imagines Dortchen's story. Dortchen and the Grimm family were neighbours growing up in the small German Kingdom of Hessen-Cassel during the Napoleonic Wars. Although Dortchen was attracted to Wilhelm from the start, their relationship was complicated by the poverty of the Grimms, the unstable situation they lived in and Dortchen's overbearing father. Subject to constant criticism and verbal abuse, Dortchen is accused of being the 'wild one' by her father and forced to live according to his every wish. As her home life grows ever more abusive, Dortchen takes refuge in the traditional stories told to her by Old Marie and helps Wilhelm to build his collection.
My synopsis honestly doesn't do this book justice. I was lucky enough to review the excellent Bitter Greens earlier in the year and was thrilled to be offered the chance to review this one. I was expecting it to be very good but it exceeded my expectations. The Wild Girl is a chunky book at almost five hundred pages but I just flew through it as the story, and Dortchen in particular, captivated me. Forsyth manages to make her a quite fiery female character but at the same time keep her appropriate for the time period. Dortchen may complain about boys getting to fight ogres and join the army, but she still feels like an authentic nineteenth century woman who helps to run her family home.
As the reader gets to see Dortchen's 'wild' personality at the beginning of the book, it makes it all the more powerful as her character gradually begins to shrink at her father's influence. I think this was very well done and the issue of abuse was dealt with sensitively. I'm not normally a big fan of romance but the romance between Dortchen and Wilhelm was extremely realistic and well written. Forsyth was so good at putting you in Dortchen's shoes that her pain almost became my own pain by the end of the novel and I was certainly rooting for a happy ending.
The Wild Girl is more straight historical fiction than Bitter Greens. I didn't know much about the Napoleonic Wars or the history of Germany at this time so it was interesting to find out a bit more in the context of the story. Despite being historical fiction, the fairy stories are still at the heart of the book. As Dortchen tells each tale to Wilhelm, they seem to relate to her personal life and a major theme of the novel is the redemptive power of fiction;
"Stories help make sense of things. They make you believe you can do things. They help you imagine that things may be different, that if you just have enough courage...or enough faith.... or goodness....you can change things for the better."
The Wild Girl is a fantastic book and I'm so glad that I read it. It's one of those books that makes you fall in love with reading all over again. Definitely recommended for everyone.
First Published in the UK: 29th July 2013
Score: 5 out of 5
This sounds fantastic, and it's gorgeous to boot! It's so strange, I just finished reading Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (which was incredible), one of the characters is Jacob Grimm and the book talks a little about Dortchen. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention!ReplyDelete
Ooh, Far Far Away sounds good, it's now on my wishlist. Hope you enjoy The Wild Girl.Delete
That bookcover is beautiful and it sounds like a very interesting book as well.ReplyDelete
I am glad to see you enjoyed it so much.
It is a beautiful cover and a very well made book too.Delete
I had heard of this book but had no idea it's actually that interesting. On the photo it looks such a chunkster :DReplyDelete
It is a chunkster, but being so easy to read means that it doesn't feel too long.Delete
I have this one to look forward to and I know now that I will enjoy it 100%. Fantastic review! I like this cover better than the Aussie one.ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it as much as you are expecting to :)Delete
I still have Bitter Greens on my wish list, but would pick this one up for the cover alone! Glad you enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
Bitter Greens has a gorgeous cover too, they are stylistically very similar. Hope you get a chance to read either of them, they are well worth it.Delete
I am totally sold! I had no idea that the Grimm brothers got so many of their stories from one person.ReplyDelete
To be honest, I had no real idea of where they got their stories from before starting this book...Delete
That sounds so interesting! What a great find. I had never heard of this book before. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your week.ReplyDelete
Thanks Rita. I don't think Forsyth's books are available in the US yet, so that may be why they aren't widely known.Delete
I'll be reviewing this shortly. It's such a beautiful book, even holding it is quite magical before you turn the actual pages! I think it will be a big hit.ReplyDelete
You're right about that, it feels like a proper book.Delete
This looks like such a treat of a book! I'll definitely be looking for it!ReplyDelete
I think you would love it, Andi.Delete
Can't wait to give it a try. Great post!ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it :)Delete
I've been meaning to read Bitter Greens since you reviewed it way back when (I can never find it at the store) and now I have another one to add to the list! Oh fairy tales, you slay me.ReplyDelete
I don't think either title is published in the US - book depository is your friend in this matter :PDelete
Poopers! I guess I'll have to look there. :]Delete
Thank you so much for your wonderful review, Sam, you really made my day. I'm so glad that you loved THE WILD GIRL and that you gave her such a glowing 5-star review. Please let me know if you'd like to ask me any questions about the book or the writing of it :)ReplyDelete
Glad you enjoyed my review, Kate :)Delete
Oh my gosh, I need this!! NEED I tell you! I'm going to go put it on my wish list right this minute :DReplyDelete
You definitely need it, you would LOVE this book!Delete
I really want to read this book! I read the full collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales earlier this year for The Classics Club so this could be a great follow on read.ReplyDelete
I read the Philip Pullman versions of the Grimm's Tales recently and that made me even more excited for this book. I think it would make a great follow on read.Delete
It's great to read how much you enjoyed this one Sam, I've got it here to read for the book tour too, and I really enjoyed Bitter Greens so was looking forward to this one very much too. After reading your review and also Ellie's (Lit Nerd) I can't wait to start!ReplyDelete
As a lover of historical fiction, I think this one would be a good read for me!ReplyDelete
This sounds really fantastic! I LOVE the cover. And the premise sounds great, too - I really enjoy stories that take a historical fact and then run with it.ReplyDelete
I agree with everything you've said! I think it is so impressive how Dortchen slowly becomes less and less wild under her father's abuse. Very well written indeed! Definitely need to try Bitter Greens now.ReplyDelete
Thanks again, everyone, for all your lovely comments - I do hope you all read and love my Wild Girl :)ReplyDelete