Bluebeard's Castle | Anna Biller

Should've been a film

After watching Anna Biller's masterpiece of a film The Love Witch I was excited to find that she had recently released a novel. Bluebeard's Castle was originally intended as a film as well, but turned into a novel instead. As the title and the text on the inside cover flap of the book suggest this is a story of a woman that finds herself in a toxic relationship with a Bluebeard character.

The novel is a feminist piece deconstructing tropes of romance novels and Gothic fiction. While that is all very well and good it fails to do that in an engaging way. As a reader we are given the very worst perspective. We do not take the protagonists point of view where we ourselves are enamoured with the Bluebeard character, taken in by his spell and manipulated. Instead, we plainly see him for the warehouse-full-of-wandering-red-flags he is. The way it is written made me exasperatedly shout at the protagonist for her choice to stay with or return to her abuser.

In any other novel this wouldn't be a problem, but it does run completely counter to the whole point of this one. How can it deconstruct and explain how anyone can become the victim of abuse and manipulation when it's so difficult to sympathize with the victim and understand her motivations? Later in the book there was one instance where it I got it.

Minor Spoiler At one point the protagonist completely flips her opinion towards her Bluebeard from doubt to devotion. This switch was so ridiculous that I finally got how much she had already lost her grip on reality and wasn't thinking straight at all. Up until this point all her terrible decisions had seemed like she had just reached the wrong conclusions due to stupidity, not madness.
Disappointingly, this one instance remained the exception and the narrative subsequently fell back into its old patterns.

Another choice that did not work for me at all was at the end of the book when the narrator addresses the audience directly to explain the moral of the story. That might be a bit of a fairy tale trope, but the way it was done felt condescending and inelegant.

In the end I am very sad to say that I did not enjoy this book. I'd recommend instead to check out her film The Love Witch and buy its soundtrack on bandcamp.

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