30 July 2015

Book Review: Tales of Innocence and Experience

Tales of Innocence and Experience by Eva Figes first came to my attention on things mean a lot when Ana wrote a wonderful review that stuck in my mind.

The main thematic focus of the book is the loss of childhood innocence we all suffer and the varied forms that loss can take. For our narrator, a grandmother, the loss was sudden, inexplicable, and difficult. The story is told through fairy tales, how they help us make meaning, how they connect adult to child, how they teach children fear, darkness, and survival.

One of my favorite sections in the book is a collection of three consecutive chapters that reveal Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty in the after, the demons and nightmares and challenges that face them once their tale is over. Figes's predictions of these heroes' lives feel authentic and are certainly evocative and melancholy.

I don't think I've ever read a book and marked so many passages. These pages are full of beauty, in thought and word. A few gems:

"Absolute innocence is absolute trust, which is so horrifying."

"The forest, I think but do not say, represents darkness, that which cannot be civilized, or brought under control. Cut down the trees, tame the landscape, but its shadow will always lurk on the edge of human consciousness...the heart of darkness still beats in its modern guise.

For obvious reasons, this quote truly speaks to me: "For days my daughter looks bruised and battered by the experience...She knows what she did not know before, that she is merely a link in the chain, to be used and discarded. Women lose their innocence, not with the loss of virginity, but with childbirth...our eyes meet in a new understanding...Now the shock of the oldest law, spoken by God to the first woman, is in her eyes...the purpose of birth is also the purpose of death".  There is nothing quite like children to remind you of your inescapable death.

The one quote that truly sums up this book: "How old is old enough for a child to know the world for what it is?" A question I struggle with almost daily.

Even after revising this review, I'm just not pleased. I can't seem to find the right words to convey how powerful I found this book. Apparently this will be one of those books that I just can't talk about properly. I guess I'll just leave you with: I heartily recommend reading this one. It's beautiful in form and content.


  1. I so agree with there being a problem of deciding when a child is old enough to know the world for what it is. But there are many children for whom there is no choice - say, if you have a little boy who is black and likes to play with toy guns. For me personally, in my own experience when young, the problem was that I would find out about the dark things by accident, and incompletely, and then I would be full of fears and misconceptions that perhaps could have been avoided (or better defined maybe!) I struggle with the question even when reviewing kids books - are they papering over too much? Or do I want kids to have some of the nightmares I used to have? and when to start talking? Ugh. The shame of it is that we even have to confront the issue!

  2. Cannot wait to read this. It looks wonderful.

  3. Question for you: Does this book in any way relate to William Blake? Because when I first saw the title of your post, I thought this was going to be about the book of poems of the same title. It would be interesting to hear that Blake was woven in, somehow.

    1. I didn't catch any references to Blake, but I read this book so fast, nuance was lost on me.

  4. This is a sad commentary on the meanness of human beings, but it it is also a book about th joy of family and innocence. Amazon prices and delivery speed are amazing!


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