Book and Movie Reviews

The Beast’s Heart

by Leife Shallcross

January 30, 2019.Beth.2 Likes.0 Comments

This review contains spoilers

This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast told from the Beast’s point of view. Interestingly, this adaption is not the well known and loved version of Beauty and the Beast released by Disney in 1991. Instead, Shallcross goes back to the original, written by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont in 1756.

The story begins with the Beast running through the forest as an animal, catching food and howling at the moon until one night when he stumbles upon his old castle. As he enters the gates slam behind him and he is trapped, his home decrepit and falling down around him. Over the next century as his memories return he struggles to walk upright and read his books, becoming as much a man as his beastly form will allow. Until one night when a mysterious traveller was allowed through the gates. We learn the traveller is a merchant who has lost all of his wealth, forcing him to move his three daughters from luxury to the country. At night he dreams of them, and through the strange magic the house is imbued with, the Beast is able to observe. Through the dreams he becomes infatuated with the youngest daughter, Isabeau, and threatens the merchant the next morning that if he doesn’t give him his daughter, the Beast will kill him. When Isabeau does arrive, the Beast feels ashamed of his actions and says she can leave. She counters, by agreeing to stay with him for a year. 

And so begins the most boring year of either of their lives. Not really, but it seemed like it when you read about them playing music, going for walks, reading and getting dressed for dinner for a million pages. Perhaps if we could have heard from Isabeau this would have been less monotonous. The story remains strictly from the Beasts point of view, told in a first person narrative that feels strangely isolating and insular, echoing perhaps the Beasts own feelings of loneliness and detachment but resulting in a fairly depressing read.

The Beast’s point of view could have been an interesting take on an old story, except for the fact that the Beast is incredibly boring. He feels guilt for a crime he doesn’t really remember and is told to the reader in confusing fragments and half memories, and anguish at his hideous form which he goes on and on and on about it. He was sulky, mopey, dreary and tormented; constantly berating how ugly he was and how he could never win Isabeau. There was no purpose to his days, he had few interests and after he makes his initial improvements such as walking on his hind legs and dressing himself, he apparently just sat in his crumbling castle for years. At one point towards the end he wonders what he had to offer Isabeau, and honestly, I had to agree.

Isabeau isn’t much better however. She plays music, paints, walks and reads with the Beast; and that. Is. It. At the beginning, when the Beast sees her in her father’s dreams, she appears perfect. She is sweet and innocent and lovely, and the Beast pines for her, even though he doesn’t know her. When he does know her though, she is exactly the same. This is one of my big problems with the story, Isabeau never feels complex, and despite being one of the main characters the reader never gets to know her. She remains closed to us, as she is closed to the Beast, spending half her time on solitary walks contemplating the contents of dreams she chooses not to share.

The break out characters of this book are Isabeau’s sisters, Claude and Marie. Unlike in the Disney version, these are not evil step sisters. The Beast watches their story unfold through the magic mirror, from spoiled and grieving the loss of their home and sister through to their happily-ever-afters. Their story is wholly enjoyable, and their character growth is incredibly realistic. They are both flawed, and the story doesn’t hide this, but they are also both very lovely and I felt genuine happiness for them at the end.

I also really enjoyed the castle and the role it played in the story. The curse made it magical and the Beast was linked to it in a way that allowed him to sense where people were, and to build and grow sections with a thought. It reflected his moods, when he was depressed the castle was crumbling around him, his belongings mouldy and falling apart. When he was happy it looked beautiful and clean and how it did in his memories. I loved the invisible servants and how they managed to portray emotions like disapproval or embarrassment through how they served him, tugging his hair or hurrying away after spilling something.

Despite the Beast’s negative traits, he was unfailingly polite and respectful of Isabeau and this was reflected in one scene in particular involving the castle. Isabeau arrived for dinner dressed uncomfortably in a fine dress, and the Beast realises that the house is catering solely for his wishes. He commands it to listen to Isabeau even above his orders. The little changes in the house from then on are a fun thing for the reader to observe, highlighting the differences between the two main characters and providing small insights.

There were parts of this book I liked, but a lot of it didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the sister’s storylines and the magical castle, however the main characters of the Beast and Isabeau were underdeveloped and their love story was tedious and overly drawn out. I did like that it was a retelling of the original Beauty and the Beast but apart from a few details, The Beast’s Heart doesn’t really have anything new to offer.

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