Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: January 23, 2018
The Juniper Tree
by Barbara Comyns, introduction by Sadie Stein
Bella Winter has hit a low. Homeless and jobless, she is the mother of a toddler by a man whose name she didn’t quite catch, and her once pretty face is disfigured by the scar she acquired in a car accident. Friendless and without family, she’s recently disentangled herself from a selfish and indifferent boyfriend and a cruel and indifferent mother. But she shares a quality common to Barbara Comyns’s other heroines: a bracingly unsentimental ability to carry on. Before too long, Bella has found not only a job but a vocation; not only a place to live but a home and a makeshift family. As Comyns’s novel progresses, the story echoes and inverts the Brothers Grimm’s macabre tale The Juniper Tree. Will Bella’s hard-won restoration to life and love come at the cost of the happiness of others?comyns
A treasure from the 1980s...[The Juniper Tree] picks up the Grimm notion that an excess of maternal happiness can prove fatal...Comyns's prose is vivid and charmingly hurried... The Grimm story is about evil, revenge, and justice—an eye for an eye—but The Juniper Tree is about accidents, damage, and repair.
—Christine Smallwood, Harper's
The novel...achieves a life of its own, and allows Bella to emerge at last from her ordeal with a feminist, fertile, happy, fairy-tale ending. Hypnotic and enthralling in the process.
Comyns’s world is weird and wonderful...there’s also something uniquely original about her voice. Tragic, comic and completely bonkers all in one, I’d go as far as to call her something of a neglected genius.
—Lucy Scholes, The Observer
The Juniper Tree, which appeared in 1985, is one of Comyns’s most successful, confident and curious productions. It has the clear pure narrative quality of a fable, but also shows a humanity and maturity.
The Juniper Tree is a fairy tale that haunts me because even at the end the evil in it is never wholly undone. Through her reimagining of the wicked stepmother figure, Comyns speculates convincingly as to how damage escalates despite all conscious attempts to limit itself.
Comyns approaches the world as if everything is worthy of clear-eyed attention. In this novel in particular, she is better than any other writer I know at striking an impossible balance between accuracy, wonder, and disgust.
—Brian Evenson, The Rumpus
Comyn’s voice has childlike qualities; she looks at everything in the world as though seeing it for the first time. In later books, though, her narrators’ naivety is deployed in order to provoke horror; the gap between what the reader knows and the narrator doesn’t serves to make the reader fascinated and fearful.
—Emily Gould, The Awl
Here is a beautifully organized, well-written book that reads almost conversationally.... Delicate, tough, quick moving, it’s a haunting book...an amazing achievement.
Comyns’s heroines, and her novels, are plaintive, strange, and robust all at once.... As an exercise in reconstruction, using the old ingredients but producing a fable for a different age, The Juniper Tree could hardly have been more satisfactorily accomplished.
—The Times Literary Supplement
I don’t think there is any other novelist I’ve come across who writes so subtly the disturbing and the domestic.
—Stuck in a Book (blog)