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  • Lies That Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen through Contemporary Fiction from Britain
  • Jennifer Orme (bio)
Lies That Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen through Contemporary Fiction from Britain. By Anne C. Hegerfeldt. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005. 347 pp.

Although Lies That Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen through Contemporary Fiction from Britain is not primarily about folklore or fairy tales, this text is worth the attention of scholars who are interested in the hybridity of contemporary literary fairy tales. It also points in interesting directions for discussions of the intersections of magic realism and contemporary fairy-tale texts. [End Page 339]

Anne Hegerfeldt approaches the contentious topic of what texts can be said to be magic realist and takes the stand that as a mode rather than a genre, magic realism is open not only to Latin American or even postcolonial authors but also to authors around the globe. The techniques, effects, and functions of magic realism, argues Hegerfeldt, can be found even in literature from the dominant Western world. She argues that as a textual mode, magic realism is available to everyone; however, she is careful to stress that magic realism is postcolonial “in that it re-thinks the dominant Western world-view in a number of ways” (3). As such, magic realism serves as an alternative form of knowledge production and critiques dominant Western epistemologies that privilege rationality over “ex-centric” worldviews and ways of knowing, and is also open to Western authors, because “critical re-evaluations may also be conducted from within” (346).

Having removed the locational strictures often placed upon magic realist fiction, and as her title indicates, Hegerfeldt focuses on contemporary British authors who are very familiar to students and scholars of English-language contemporary fairy-tale fiction—Angela Carter, Robert Nye, Salman Rushdie, and Jeanette Winterson—and upon the novels The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis, Wild Nights by Emma Tennant, and Marina Warner’s Indigo.

Of particular interest to folktale and fairy-tale scholars is chapter 3, “Magic ‘Mongrel’ Realism: The Adaptation of Other Genres and Modes,” which looks closely at the hybrid nature of magic realist fiction as it “exploits” realism, “flirts” with the marvelous, “plays” with the literary fantastic, and “puts you on” like the tall tale. Hegerfeldt asserts that “[b]oth in its unorthodox use of realism and its resulting stance of matter-of-factness, magic realism . . . is closer to the tall tale than to the literary fantastic” (109).

While she does not dwell on the elements of the fairy tale employed by her focus texts, Hegerfeldt does recognize that “there undoubtedly are texts that could be understood both as modern fairy tales and as instances of magic realism” (80). This observation with its limited examples—Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Marina Warner’s short story “In the Scheme of Things” (80n32)—reveals the need for further study into connections between magic realism and fairy-tale fiction in the work of Carter and Warner as well as other texts that do not fall under Hegerfeldt’s purview, such as the work of Nalo Hopkinson or Luisa Valenzuela or films such as Tim Burton’s Big Fish or Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, to name just a few.

Lies that Tell the Truth effectively employs the tools of narrative theory to look at the techniques, functions, and effects of magic realism at the level of the text, thus taking a stand in the contentious arguments about who can “do” magic realism and contributing insight into the ways in which this mode critiques dominant Western systems of thought. Further, by looking at narrative [End Page 340] techniques and effects rather than becoming bogged down in the identity politics of postcolonial authenticity debates, Lies makes a valuable contribution to discussions of the functions of magic, storytelling, and hybridity in contemporary narrative fiction and should be welcomed by readers of Marvels & Tales who are interested in pursuing the intriguing and potentially rewarding directions for further study into the knotty relationship between magic realism, folktales, and fairy tales.

Jennifer Orme
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Jennifer Orme

Jennifer Orme is a PhD candidate at the University...


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pp. 339-341
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