Thu, 07 Aug 2008
Gregory Maguire's "Wicked", as popularised by the Broadway musical, is a tale of the Land of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West's life. It starts with her birth to an unsuspecting minister and his unfaithful wife, and ends with her death, as chronicled in L. Frank Baum's classic book.
First, a brief note on why I chose to read this book. Recently (though not recently enough for me to have blogged about it), my housemates and I went down to London to see "Wicked the Musical". It was faintly enjoyable, but had a massively disappointing ending (as with the vast majority of musicals, but that's for another time). Anyhow, I couldn't really understand why this was such a big deal, so I assumed it must have something to do with the book on which the musical is based (albeit exceedingly loosely, now I have experienced both). So I took Wicked out of Peterborough Central Library and set about reading it.
Starting at the ending, it was better than that of the musical. However, it was probably the weakest part of the book. I should note at this point that I was getting rather tired by the end of the book (the tiredness entirely my own doing, most of you will not be surprised to hear), so I am not entirely sure that that didn't affect my enjoyment. Anyway, on with the review.
The book is split into five parts, and it is along these lines that I have made my notes (though I read the final part without my notebook by me, so that part will be even more sparse on comment than the rest). A quick warning, I haven't gone to any great lengths in what follows to avoid any spoilers. Beware.
In the first section, "Munchkinlanders", the story opens, as mentioned previously, with the Witch, whose name is Elphaba, being born to Frex, a minister of sorts, and Melena, a housewife of noble stock. Green from the outset, Elphaba causes a great deal of consternation and not a little infanticidal feeling from most people who meet her. By and by, a Quadling named Turtle Heart arrives, and proves to be able to tell the future in some part. It is here that we first get the link between this Oz and L. Frank Baum's Oz, as he predicts the arrival of the Wizard in a few years. This link is confirmed when Ozma, the deposed Princess of Oz, is later mentioned. As someone who has read some of the Oz canon outside of "The Wizard of Oz", I was pleased to see this reference. This part of the book ends with the birth of Elphaba's sister, Nessarose. Overall, however, this part of the book seems to take too long to get going, and doesn't really get enough done for the amount of time it takes to do it.
The story then skips, in "Gillikin", to Elphaba's arrival at Shiz University. Within this part, the story of the musical diverges from that of the book by so much that it would be laughable to claim they are the same at all. The storyline in this part becomes too complex for me to bother with describing (though I don't consider this to be a bad thing). One thing that bothered me about this section was that occasionally it got too cutesy, and the dialogue in some scenes seemed very false. It completely drew me out of those parts of the storyline, which were fairly important. The other thing that I began to notice, which was confirmed by the rest of the book, is that religion is fairly weakly drawn. It is too similar to religion in this world to stand independant and be more than allegorical, but yet doesn't really say anything of value about the religion of our world.
In the "City of Emeralds", Elphaba has a love affair with Fiyero, who showed up in "Gillikin". This becomes relevant in the latter parts of the story. I found this section to be enjoyable and readable, my only complaint being that the ending is somewhat ambiguous (though it should be understood that, by this time, I was beginning to tire).
"In The Vinkus" is set seven years on from the "City of Emeralds". I found this part interesting, but it began to drag on. I also found that Maguire kept the happenings of the seven interim years back until they could be sprung at some suprising moment. This didn't really add anything, but just meant that I went back and had to consider the behaviour of Elphaba from the start of this section over again, which disrupted the flow.
The final section, "The Murder and Its Afterlife", seemed confused to me, and seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
To conclude, I quite enjoyed reading this book. However, it always felt like it was grasping for something, whether it be deep meaning, true understanding of camaraderie or Elphaba's mounting frustration towards the end, but never quite grabbing it. It seems to me a lot like Galinda at Shiz University, there's meaning and thoughtfulness in there somewhere but it's virtually impossible to coax it out. I also found that it was leaving a number of questions irritatingly unanswered. These may be answered in the sequels, but I fear I am more likely to read about them on Wikipedia than in the actual works themselves. Overall, though, I would recomend reading this, if only because I'm not sure I'm right.