Miranda and Caliban

25670396Miranda and Caliban
by Jacqueline Carey
336 pages
published February 14, 2017

From Goodreads: Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love.


I think it was the cover that drew me to this book initially. I saw it on the ‘new releases’ shelf at the bookstore, and when I read the synopsis I decided to give it a try. Miranda and Caliban are characters in one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, so exploring how a relationship between Caliban and Miranda might have developed on that island was an intriguing idea.

The story begins when Miranda is about six or seven years old. Her father, Prospero, wants to capture the wild boy on the island, to teach him to read and be a ‘proper’ human being. At least, that’s what he tells Miranda. As it turns out, Prospero wants another servant. He lays an enchantment on Caliban and confines him to the keep they’ve made their home with a threat to take away his free will if he doesn’t conform to what Prospero wants.

As time passes, Miranda slowly teaches Caliban about words and friendship. It makes sense to both of them to come to care for each other. They’re close to the same age, they’re the only children on the island, and without external concepts of race and beauty to interfere, their relationship is natural. And for a long time, everything is harmonious.

Then something happens. They grow up.

The mysteries of maturing are baffling to kids who know what’s going on, but for Miranda, it’s especially frightening. Prospero knows what’s happening to her, but he insists on keeping everything secret for her, as though the facts of womanhood are too upsetting for her to know beforehand. He claims he wants to keep her innocent, but she finds out that he has upsetting plans for her future.

Miranda isn’t the only one to suffer from Prospero’s notions. Caliban, too suffers. His skin is dark and his body is twisted, neither of which make him suitable to care for Miranda- at least in Prospero’s eyes. But his prejudices, especially as presented to him by the spirit Ariel, lead Caliban to believe that his is bad and unworthy of Miranda, causing misery for both.

Events come to a head when Prospero summons a storm that brings a prince to their shores and changes all their lives forever.

 

This book caught my interest right away. Miranda’s voice at the beginning is so perfectly child-like. Not in a bad way. She’s not childish at all. Miranda is actually quite a precocious girl- not surprising, given that  Prospero is so well-educated and her only teacher. The chapters switch back and forth between Miranda’s perspective and Caliban’s, which Caliban’s perspective starting out simplistic and growing more complex as Miranda continues to teach him. The prose is lovely all the way through, and the story is deceptively simple- two children grow up as the best of friends until puberty goes and messes things up.

It’s not that simple, though. Miranda and Caliban want nothing more than their friendship, but Prospero has his plans and his prejudices. He wants revenge on the people who exiled him, and Miranda is part of that plan. And because she’s a girl and his society believes that women are physically weak and weak-willed, he treats her  badly and keeps her ignorant of the world and their life before they came to the island. His prejudices hurt Caliban, too, as he sees Caliban as barely human and little more than a semi-useful servant.

It’s hard to do anything but dislike Prospero. He’s so wrapped up in his own little world that he has little sympathy for the other beings on the island. Miranda, Caliban, and Ariel are all tools to him, to be used for his own plans. Ariel seems villainous at times, too, though at other times he’s just trying to make the best of his own situation and spare Miranda a bit of pain. And while the Caliban of The Tempest is often hard to sympathize with, here it’s easy to understand his pain and why he does the things he does in the play. Miranda is probably the most sympathetic character of all, and is far more complicated here than she is in the play.

Re-tellings of old stories are common these days. It seems like there’s a new one coming out every other day, and while it’s something writers have been doing for ages, it feels particularly intense these days. This retelling is particularly lovely, though, and adds depth and dimension to characters that don’t always have a lot of either in the play.

I’ve seen a lot of Jacqueline Carey’s books through the years, and for one reason or another I’ve never read any of them until Miranda and Caliban. I saw Kushiel’s Dart the last time I was at the bookstore, and based on the synopsis, I will probably be reading more of Carey’s work in the future.

February Sum Up

February flew by.

It feels like I didn’t read as much in February as I did in January. That’s true to a degree, but the difference wasn’t drastic. I read eleven books in January and ten books in February. Not a big difference. There was one book, The Fellowship of the Ring that I started the last week or so of January and finished on the second or third of February. Not too shabby.

I only read three of the five books I’d picked to read this month. I didn’t even open Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates or The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. I feel bad about not having read Bellefleur, because I’ve had it for a long time and it just sits on the shelf. Someday, I will read it. The Two Towers is one of my March selections, as I can’t not read the full Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Excluding The Fellowship of the Ring, which I didn’t start in February, here are the books I read this month:

  1. The Martian Chronicles– Ray Bradbury
  2. Before the Awakening- Greg Rucka
  3. The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy– Alexandra Bracken
  4. Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away Vol. 1: Aliens– Landry Q. Walker, et al.
  5. Leave me Alone, I’m Reading– Maureen Corrigan
  6. Norse Mythology– Neil Gaiman
  7. Orlando– Virginia Woolf
  8. A Perilous Undertaking– Deanna Raybourn
  9. The Wars of the Roses– Alison Weir
  10. The Last Kingdom– Bernard Cornwell

Overall, an enjoyable month of reading.

My picks for March are:

  1. The Two Towers– J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Hunt for Vulcan- Thomas Levenson
  3. Arthur’s Britain- Leslie Alcock
  4. The Remains of the Day– Kazuo Ishiguro
  5. The Well-Educated Mind– Susan Wise Bauer

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I’m currently in the midst of two books- All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister and How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan EllenbergBeing a single lady myself, it’s interesting to see how high a percentage of the female population has remained single throughout the years (it’s higher than you’d think) and how society and government have both welcomed and reviled single women in recent history. How Not to be Wrong is an exploration of mathematics, how people can use statistics and linear thinking to mislead the public, either unintentionally or on purpose, and how you can take a step back and ask a few simple questions to get at the truth behind the numbers.

Normally, I’d say that I’m actually looking forward to the end of winter, but it’s been so warm around here lately that it already feels like spring has come. So I guess I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to the longer days that come along with warmer weather.

Ireland, day 6

My plan last night was to catch a bus out to the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin- something I had been looking forward to since I started planning this whole trip. 

Around 4:00 this morning, though, I woke up feeling horrendous. Achy muscles, sore throat, headache, coughing. It was dreadful, and I didn’t  get back to sleep for a few more hours. When I woke up again, I felt just as horrible, so my lovely plans went right out the window. After running a couple of errands (finding lunch, mailing postcards), I went back to the B&B and spent most  of the day in bed. I’m feeling slightly better now, but it was a lousy way to spend my last full day in Galway.

New Acquisition 4/24/2016

I found some birthday money I had overlooked somehow, so off to the bookstore I went! I keep hearing about this book, and about how good it is, and the synopsis looks intriguing- an adventurous librarian accidentally travels through time while the woman he loves continues going through her life day by day like everyone else. So I’m going to give it a try.

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