A Cinderella story

Danielle Steel's latest novel, Fairytale, follows the young and dynamic Camille Lammenais as she loses her family and is left with an evil stepmother. There's an undercurrent of Cinderella in here, with Camille's impossible new family, a fairy godmother in the form of a grandmother, and, of course, sprawling vineyards, parties, and fabulous wealth.

When the novel begins, Camille's parents, Joy and Christophe, are still alive. The reader is taken into their history and their building of Chateau Joy (for Christophe is French, and names their abode after his wife.) They begin, as it is Christophe's dream, making wine in Napa Valley, in an area apparently dominated by wealthy vintners. A lot of Joy and Christophe's history is told in these pages, with very little dialogue. And, at the centre of the couple's happiness is the child, Camille, who quickly grows up to become an accomplished young woman. And, this being a modern fairytale rendering, tragedy strikes - Joy is diagnosed with cancer, undergoes treatment, and has a relapse. Her untimely death leads to a void in Christophe and Camille's lives - and that makes him an easy target for the seductive and mysterious Maxine.

Fairytale adheres to the structure of Cinderella rather strictly. After his second marriage, Christophe is blind to his wife's faults. And then he is killed, leaving Camille alone. And so begins Camille's journey of managing the winery and vineyards on her own, dealing with the loss of her father, and trying to keep her ambitious stepmother from draining the family resources dry.

Maxine is well characterised in this novel, and she is, despite her beauty, very insecure. The evil stepdaughters of the original Cinderella are stepsons in Fairytale. Scheming and jealous, Maxine makes it clear to Camille that her American-ness, her lack of knowledge of French, and her business acumen are all quite worthless.

Camille, for her part, is independent and talented, and far too tolerant of everything that happens to her. Not always, but there are some bizarre moments - she gets thrown out of the house far too easily, and given the strength of character displayed so far, that event appears a little inconsistent. Or perhaps it is the trauma of losing her family that leads her to behave as she does, but that is not made clear. There is also an attempted assault on her one night when a man waits for her in the darkness of her home. The treatment of that event is a little strange in the novel. Camille, at 23, has little or no social life, and few friends as she is focused on her business.

The Napa Valley setting is modern, with computers and cars and the internet, but somehow, as Fairytale progresses, you do get the impression that you are reliving the 1940s or the 1950s. There is also an emphasis on the 'foreign,' and the cultural differences and sophisticated seductiveness of the French, as portrayed by Maxine. Her relationship with Christophe, and her treatment of Camille, while told more than shown, is pretty convincing.

The grandmother of the tale is a surprising character, warm and amusing, with quirks that even Camille is surprised by. She is the only sane voice in the madness of the new family, and the only individual who understands Camille's heartache. And of course, when a ball is organised that Camille must attend, she finds her a dress, much like the fairytale, and sends her off.

In spite of the inconsistencies, Fairytale does make for an entertaining read with its characterisation and family dynamics. The story is predictable and still manages to hold interest. The novel is simply told, and it does not focus too much on excessive detail or pretentious literariness, which is exactly what makes it an interesting tale to explore.

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