Beautiful Griselda is a fairy tale about the perils of narcissism and the difficulty of keeping your wits about you, especially the parts of your anatomy containing your wits, when confronted by the object of your desire. I think we can all relate…to a degree.

Princess Griselda is beautiful. Really, gobsmackingly beautiful. Everyone who casts their eyes upon her lovely visage falls head over heels in love with her. Literally. Their heads pop off like corks. Griselda is greatly amused by this, and makes a collection of her admirers, varnishing their heads and placing them under glass or on the walls like stuffed trout. Yes, grisly Griselda is a bit of a monster, more interested in perfecting her lethal form of beauty and growing her ‘collection’ than finding a nice little froggie to kiss. Lucky froggies.

To keep the princely heads rolling, Griselda’s daily beauty ablutions include bathing in cold spring water, slurping juice from sour Tasmanian fruit, posing in crystal shoes, and of course, stray hair removal, courtesy of her ladies in waiting (to have their heads pop off.) And, like all narcissists of the royal persuasion, Griselda takes more than a little pleasure in knowing that people throughout the land are obsessed by her beauty, misinterpreting fear for admiration.

And yet…a mirror makes for poor conversation, and even the self-absorbed get bored…

In spite of the fact that all the fashionable and many of the unfashionable doors in the kingdom have closed to her, Griselda is determined to find a mate. A short-sighted mate, whose blurred vision may just be the way around her little…dare I say it? Flaw. As luck would have it, a myopic prince enters the scene and miraculously he is able to withstand her beauty…for a few hours, until he too succumbs to the inevitable. Well, at least HRH McGoo dies with a smile on his disembodied face, like all the other besotted suitors. In a rather suprising departure from traditional picture book fare, their brief union results in a royal baby nine months later. A baby, who not surprisingly, looks just like Princess Griselda. End of Princess Griselda. But not the end of the story. As we discover, beauty may be hereditary, but self-centeredness is a choice.

It’s good to have a hobby

Beautiful Griselda is a thoroughly modern take not only on the fairy-tale genre, but also a sly comment on the narcissism and superficiality pervading our culture. In spite of the head count, there is nothing Grimm about the storytelling or the art. The author of this very clever book, known simply as Isol, wields her pen and paintbrush with a light touch, favouring humour over didacticism, suggestion over detail. In shades of orange, blue and black, the three-colour illustrations pop off the page like a row of princely heads, devastatingly handsome and deliciously askew. Executed in pencil, oil pastel and collage, and then processed on computer, the paintings have a distinct look with slightly off-centre overlays, blocks of pattern, and simple, almost scribbled line drawings of the princess and her royal entourage (dead  and alive.) Isol’s visual sensibilities are particularly effective in a two-page illustration depicting the princess riding alone in her mouse-driven carriage through the darkened, snowy streets of the kingdom.

“Wherever she went, doors and windows slammed shut in a frightened hurry.”

Kinda sad, kinda funny, kinda beautiful. Kinda whacked.

Marisol Misenta, known professionally as Isol, was born in Buenos Aires in 1972. An illustrator and author of many internationally lauded children’s books, only recently has she popped up on the North American literary scene. Isol was a finalist in 2006 and 2007 for the Hans Christian Andersen Prize, and won the Golden Apple at the Biennial of Illustration Bratislava. A number of her books that have been translated into English, including, Petit, the Monster and Doggy Slippers (previously reviewed in this blog), both of which address the complexities of a child’s emotional life with humour and empathy. In Beautiful Griselda, we are treated to the full scope of Isol’s talent as a writer and illustrator of unique, incredibly funny, and strikingly gorgeous picture books for all ages. I am, without a doubt, head over heels.

Beautiful Griselda by Isol, to be published by Groundwood Books in October, 2011. ISBN: 978-1554981052 (Thank you to Trish from Groundwood Books for spiriting a copy of this book to my doorstep.)

Doggy Slippers written by Jorge Lujan and illustrated by Isol. Groundwood Books, 2010