Book recommendation: Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

Are you surprised that I’ve read Wicked, by Gregory Maguire? You’re probably not, if you’ve been reading my book recommendations. After all, I kept you pretty up to date as I read my way through L. Frank Baum’s Oz series.

What may surprise you, though, is that I’ve read Wicked three or four times now. It’s one of those novels that I keep coming back to. Though, admittedly, I need to be in just the right frame of mind to do so.

If you think you know the Wicked Witch of the West, you’re wrong. Elphaba’s life has been far more complicated than Dorothy’s story gives it credit for. Family, love, heartbreak and bloodshed… Elphaba’s been through it all, and it helped to shape her into the so-called villain she became.

I love the way Maguire tells Elphaba’s story. It’s this wonderful balance of literature and fantasy—a balance that not many writers can pull off properly. And while the story focuses on Elphaba’s life, it also manages to pull in discussions about issues like religion and class differences in a way that seems natural. It doesn’t pull you away from the story the way it might in other novels.

Admittedly, though, Wicked is a bit of a slower read than most novels. And I have a tendency to slow down when I’m reading it. That would annoy me with some novels, but it doesn’t seem to happen with Wicked. But, it is the reason I need to be in just the right frame of mind to pick up the book. I need to be ready to take my time with it.

Goodreads summary

When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

An astonishingly rich re-creation of the land of Oz, this book retells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn’t so wicked after all. Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Gregory Maguire just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.

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