A couple years ago, when I read Possession (also by A. S. Byatt), my friend Julie recommended this collection of fairy stories, saying that I would LOVE it. She’s almost right: I liked it, but it fell short of LOVE. (Sorry, Julie.)
I really liked the first three stories: “The Glass Coffin”, which was a Snow White-esque story with a tailor instead of a prince waking up the imprisoned princess; “Gode’s Story,” a somewhat complex story about a man who wanted a woman, cursed her to wait for him, dumped her when she became haunted, married another and then became haunted when the first woman killed herself; and, my favorite,”The Story of the Eldest Princess,” where she goes off on a quest, but because she’s read so many stories, ends up opting out of the whole quest thing and instead hooks up with an old healer woman.
The other two stories — “Dragon’s Breath” and the title one — were okay, but not nearly as enjoyable. My complaints with Djinn, especially, are similar to the ones I had about Possession: too much extra stuff, but not enough plot. When it finally got around to the plot, I really enjoyed it: what would you do if you had access to a personal djinn? (And, what is it that a woman most desires? They never answer that one.)
It really was a collection of stories about stories. Sometimes, it worked — like in “The Eldest Princess”; sometimes, not so much, like in “Dragon’s Breath”. But when it worked, it worked really well, and I was captivated by the writing — Byatt is a really descriptive writer; I just wish she’d be a tighter writer. Perhaps that’s why the shorter stories appealed to me more: the writing was tighter, the stories more linear and less circular. They worked better for me.
Maybe sometimes I do “get” short stories. Funny.