As a massive fan of fairy tales and folklore, I knew I was going to enjoy Cautionary Tales. Emmanuelle de Maupassant has a talent for replicating the style and voice of traditional fables while applying them to stories that are entirely new. The thing that I loved most about this collection was that, while all of the stories are original to the author, they carried the familiar weight of existing traditions. These are not the Disney-fied narratives of the early 20th century. de Maupassant’s tales draw from Eastern European legends while her voice and narrative style evoke everything that is dark and wonderful about the original Grimms’. As a result, I kept getting the uncanny feeling that I should know the stories in the collection, even though they twisted and bit and surprised me again and again.
All of the stories are excellent, but one stood out among all the rest for me – Against Faithlessness. de Maupassant strikes the pitch perfect balance between rapacious sexuality and moral justice by using one to feed the other. It’s a fantastically imagined story, one that draws from the dark, nasty traditions of justice, edification, and simmering sexuality common to folkloric traditions. I also appreciated that, in addition to the tales themselves, de Maupassant provides additional materials such as a glossary and a beautifully informative introduction. While the collection can certainly be enjoyed without delving into them, these extras provide a wonderful context for the curious reader.
As with her novella, The Gentleman’s Club, Emmanuelle de Maupassant has done something unique with Cautionary Tales. She’s taken a literary tradition and transcribed it for the sexual landscape of the present day. No one does this as well as she does, and I look forward to reading much more of her work.