The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl

4.7 27
by Charles de Lint

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In novel after novel, and story after story, Charles de Lint has brought an entire imaginary North American city to vivid life. Newford: where magic lights dark streets; where myths walk clothed in modern shapes; where a broad cast of extraordinary and affecting people work to keep the whole world turning.

At the center of all the entwined lives in Newford

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In novel after novel, and story after story, Charles de Lint has brought an entire imaginary North American city to vivid life. Newford: where magic lights dark streets; where myths walk clothed in modern shapes; where a broad cast of extraordinary and affecting people work to keep the whole world turning.

At the center of all the entwined lives in Newford stands a young artist named Jilly Coppercorn, with her tangled hair, her paint-splattered jeans, a smile perpetually on her lips--Jilly, whose paintings capture the hidden beings that dwell in the city's shadows. Now, at last, de Lint tells Jilly's own story...for behind the painter's fey charm lies a dark secret and a past she's labored to forget. And that past is coming to claim her now.

"I'm the onion girl," Jilly Coppercorn says. "Pull back the layers of my life, and you won't find anything at the core. Just a broken child. A hollow girl." She's very, very good at running. But life has just forced Jilly to stop.

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Editorial Reviews
"I'm the onion girl," Jilly Coppercorn insists. "Pull back the layers of my life, and you won't find anything at the core. Just a broken child. A hollow girl." But just like an onion, the story of Jilly Coppercorn lures us into its mysteries; its colorful coils of insistent elaboration; its pull into its deepest, self-apparent secret.
Publishers Weekly
Life is truly an act of magic in Canadian author de Lint's triumphant return to Newford, his fictitious North American city, with its fascinating blend of urban faerie and dreamworld adventures. When Jilly Coppercorn becomes a victim of a hit-and-run driver, her happy life as a popular Newford artist comes to a screeching halt. Half of her body, including her painting hand, no longer works properly, and the prospect of a long recovery, despite supportive friends, depresses her. Her dreams - the only escape she enjoys - connect her to friend Sophie's dreamland of Mabon. Another friend, of otherworldly origin, Joe Crazy Dog, calls it manido-aki, a place where magic dwells amid mythic creatures and e-landscapes far away from the World As It Is. Joe also knows that's where Jilly must heal what has broken inside herself to speed recovery of her physical body. Complications ensue when her friends discover that someone broke into the artist's apartment after the accident and destroyed her famous faerie paintings. De Lint introduces yet another intriguing character, the raunchy, wild and furious Raylene, as dark as Jilly is light, who deepens the mystery. Is she Jilly's shadow self, or a connection to a past Jilly would rather forget? This crazy-quilt fantasy moves from the outer to the inner world with amazing ease and should satisfy new and old fans of this prolific and gifted storyteller, whose ability to peel away layers of story could earn him the title "The Onion Man." (Nov. 1). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Is someone trying to murder artist Jillian Coppercorn? As she lies in her hospital bed, paralyzed from a hit-and-run accident, someone trashes her studio, destroying her renowned faerie paintings. Jilly's artwork is inspired by subconscious trips to an alternative world she calls the dreamlands, a place full of literary, mythical, and surreal landscapes and characters. There she can still walk about, able-bodied. She is surrounded by friends, most with a foot in both worlds, all ready to protect her from a stalker. In this New Age environment, Jilly perhaps possesses a special magic yet also harbors secrets from a dark past. She is told that her psychological wounds must heal before her physical ones can. Juxtaposed with this fantasy tale is a grittier story about two sisters suffering in an abusive white-trash family. One sister runs away, leaving the younger one to feel betrayed and abandoned, although both separately endure years of hardships in the seamy world of prostitution and crime. Over time, the resourceful but vengeful sister discovers magic and access to the dreamlands. The two plots collide as Jilly confronts the layers of her past and is forced to make a crucial decision. These characters and their imaginary city of Newford have been featured in many of the author's writings. Here they are developed further in an enjoyable modern-day fantasy adventure. The well-written but graphic depictions of life in the edgy world of switchblades and sleaze recommend this book to more mature fantasy fans. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Tor,512p, $27.95. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer: Kevin Beach SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
Library Journal
Jilly Coppercorn, a talented painter whose works reveal the hidden life of the magical Canadian town of Newford, lies in a hospital, the victim of an apparent car accident. As her friends gather around her, Jilly's own story comes to the fore, filled with the mysteries and secrets she has hidden from herself as well as from others. Continuing his series of novels set in a modern world that borders on a dimension of myth and legend, de Lint (Moonheart) highlights the life of one of his most popular characters. A master storyteller, he blends Celtic, Native American, and other cultures into a seamless mythology that resonates with magic and truth. A good selection for most fantasy collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another of de Lint's urban fantasy novels (Forests of the Heart, 2000, etc.) set in the imaginary city of Newford, this one centering on artist and philanthropist Jilly Coppercorn. Jilly, long in touch with her magical side, captures the beings of fairyland in her paintings; but she's able to visit fairyland only in her dreams. As the story opens, Jilly, nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver, lies half-paralyzed in a hospital bed. Despite the efforts of her friends-artists, musicians, those she's helped and befriended over the years-Jilly, reluctant to face existence as the Broken Girl, spends more and more time in fairyland. As a young girl, she fled her drunken parents and Del, her rapist elder brother, only to slip into prostitution and drug addiction. When finally she got straightened out, she went back to find the younger sister she feels she abandoned. But Raylene was long gone, raped by Del in turn until her friend Pinky gave her a switchblade and the courage to use it. Now, years later, Raylene's back, nursing her hatred for the sister she feels abandoned her, breaking into Jilly's studio to trash her paintings. Worse, Raylene also can enter the dreamlands, where she's a wolf and a ruthless hunter, feeding on the blood of unicorns. Another absorbing tale, as believable and insightful as they come, yet there's still an unsatisfying lack of weight-even the ancient spirits don't pack much of a wallop.
From the Publisher

“De Lint is a romantic; he believes in the great things, faith, hope, and charity (especially if love is included in that last), but he also believes in the power of magic-or at least the magic of fiction-to open our eyes to a larger world.” —Edmonton Journal

“In de Lint's capable hands, modern fantasy becomes something other than escapism. It becomes folk song, the stuff of urban myth.” —The Phoenix Gazette

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Newford Series
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The Onion Girl

By Charles de Lint, Terri Windling

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2001 Charles de Lint
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1127-6




Once upon a time ...

I don't know what makes me turn. Some sixth sense, prickling the hairs at the nape of my neck, I guess. I see the headlights. They fill my world and I feel like a deer, trapped in their glare. I can't move. The car starts to swerve away from me, but it's already too late.

It's weird how everything falls into slow motion. There seems to be time to do anything and everything, and yet no time at all. I wait for my life to flash before my eyes, but all I get is those headlights bearing down on me.

There's the squeal of tires.

A rush of wind in my ears.

And then the impact.


Once upon a time ...

That's how they always start, the old fairy tales that I read as a child. It's the proper place for them to start, because right away you know you're going to be taken somewhere else.


Once upon a time there was a little girl who wished she could be anywhere else in all the wide world except for where she was. Or more preferably still, she wished she could find some way to cross over into whatever worlds might lie beyond this one, those wonderful worlds that she read about in stories. She would tap at the back of closets and always look very carefully down rabbit holes. She would rub every old lamp that she came across and wish on any and everything ...

I've always been aware of the otherworld, of spirits that exist in that twilight place that lies in the corner of our eyes, of faerie and stranger things still that we spy only when we're not really paying attention to them, whispers and flickering shadows, here one moment, gone the instant we turn our heads for a closer look. But I couldn't always find them. And when I did, for a long time I thought they were only this excess of imagination that I carry around inside me, that somehow it was leaking out of me into the world.

In terms of what Professor Dapple calls consensual reality — that the world is as it is because that's how we've all agreed it is — I seem to carry this magical bubble world around with me, inside and hidden from the world we all inhabit. A strange and wonderful world where the implausible becomes not only possible, but probable. It doesn't matter if, most of the time, I'm the only one that can see it, though that's probably why I paint what I do; I'm trying to show the rest of the world this weird little corner of reality that I inhabit.

I see things from the corner of my eye that shouldn't be there, but are, if only for a brief, flickering moment. At a flea market, an old black teapot turns into a badger and scurries away. Late at night, a lost boy sits on the windowsill of the second-floor nursery in the apartment beside the Chinese grocery down the street from my studio, a tiny spark of light dancing about his shoulders as he peers in through the leaded panes. Later still, I hear the muted sound of hooves on the pavement and look out to see the dreadlocked gnome that Christy calls Long, his gnarled little fingers playing with a string of elf-knots that can call up the wind as he rides his pig Brigwin to the goblin market.

Oh, and the gargoyles ... sitting high up on their perches, pretending to be stone while having long conversations with pigeons and crows. I've caught them twitching, moving from one position to another, the sly look that freezes mid-wink when they realize I'm watching.

But then I've always had a fertile imagination and it was many years before I realized that most people don't experience these extraordinary glimpses the way I do. For the longest time I thought they simply wouldn't admit to it.

But the trouble with magic is that there's too much it just can't fix. When things go wrong, glimpsing junkyard faerie and crows that can turn into girls and back again doesn't help much. The useful magic's never at hand. The three wishes and the genies in bottles, seven-league boots, invisible cloaks and all. They stay in the stories, while out here in the wide world we have to muddle through as best we can on our own.


The world feels all mushy when I open my eyes. My eyelids are sticky, encrusted with dream sand, and nothing has a defined edge to it. Colors are muted and my ears are blocked. I feel dislocated from the rest of my body. I'm aware of it, but it doesn't seem to really be connected to me anymore. That's part of the blur. I have the sense that I don't really want to connect with my body because that'll just open me up to a world of pain.

I'm vaguely aware that there's something pushed up my nose. An IV drip in my arm. Limbs weighed down with I don't know what.

I realize I must be in a hospital.

Hospital? Why would I be in a hospital?

I hear a small pathetic whimper and realize that I made that sound. It draws a huge face into my line of vision, features swimming. Slowly the face becomes normal-sized, though still blurry.

"S-Sophie ...?"

My voice comes out in a weak, slurred rasp. My mouth doesn't seem to work properly anymore.

"Oh, Jilly," she says.

My ears pop at the sound of her voice. My hearing clears. There's something I need to tell her. A dream I had.

"I ... feel ... weird."

"Everything's going to be okay," she says.

Then I remember the dream. The fuzziness and strange feelings go away, or at least distance themselves from me like I'm experiencing them through the wrong end of a telescope. I try to sit up, but I can't even lift my head. Not even that troubles me.

"I've been there," I tell her. "To Mabon. I finally found a way into your dreamlands."

She looks like she wants to cry. I thought she'd be happy for me. I've been wanting to go there forever, into her cathedral world where everything feels taller and bigger and brighter — more than it is here. She visits the city of Mabon in her dreams and has a whole other, really interesting life there. Christy calls it serial dreaming, where every time you fall asleep you pick up where you left off in last night's dream, but it's more than that. What, exactly, none of us really knows. But I've always believed it was a real place and now I know for sure because I've been there, too.

"I couldn't find you there," I tell her. "I wandered around for ages. Everybody I asked knew who you were, but they couldn't tell me where you were."

"I was here," Sophie says. "With you. In the hospital."

I don't clue in at all.

"I was wondering about that," I say. "Who's sick?"

"There was an accident," Sophie begins. "A car ..."

I tune her out. I don't like cars. There's something bad about cars, but I can't remember what.


I try to focus on her voice, but suddenly there's this great abyss inside me and it just keeps pulling me down into it.

Down and down and down ...


Where is that nurse? Sophie Etoile wondered, looking over her shoulder at the door to Jilly's room. It felt like ages since she'd pushed the call button.

She turned her attention back to Jilly and brushed a damp lock of curly hair away from her friend's brow. Jilly was gone again, but at least her breathing seemed more normal. The doctor had said that when she came out of the coma, she would probably fall into a second period of unconsciousness, but it would be more like sleep. Now all they had to worry about was the possibility of paralysis when she came around again.

The call Sophie had gotten three nights ago had been her worst nightmare come true. The way Jilly was forever wandering around the city at all hours of the day or night, not caring about the danger, Sophie'd always worried that it would only be a matter of time before Jilly got hurt, though she'd been thinking more along the lines of a mugging rather than this — an early evening hit-and-run on a Lower Crowsea side street. Sophie had often joked that Jilly must have a guardian angel looking out for her. Well, if that was true, either her angel had taken the other night off, or Jilly's run of blind good luck had finally run out.

It broke Sophie's heart to look at her friend. Always lively and vibrant, Jilly was almost unrecognizable at the moment. Her skin was sallow, except for the bruising on the left side of her face where she'd struck the pavement. They'd had to shave the hair on the side of her head to properly clean her scalp. Her left arm and right leg were encased in plaster casts. Her torso was wrapped with bandages because of the ribs that had been cracked. Tubes from her nostrils tied her to an oxygen unit in the wall. More tubes were plugged into her body, running from an IV pole that held plastic bags of fluids. Wires connected her to a bank of machines that were gathered near the bed like a crowd of curious onlookers, their conversation conducted in lights and beeps and monitor lines. Her heartbeat was displayed by three waveforms undulating on a screen.

Being in here made Sophie nervous. She and Wendy and a number of Jilly's other friends had taken turns sitting with her while she was in the coma, and Sophie was more than happy to do her part. But Sophie also had a unique problem in that mechanical and electrical devices sometimes developed odd symptoms around her. Digital watches could simply flash a random time while ordinary wristwatches ran backward. She'd once crashed Christy's hard drive simply by switching on his computer. Though she wasn't connected to a cable service, her television could bring in cable signals, which would be fine except that the TV set also changed channels randomly.

When Jilly first learned about this affliction of Sophie's, she'd insisted that Sophie give it a name. Something fanciful, rather than gloomy.

"I don't know that I want to make friends with it," she told Jilly. "Then it'll never go away."

"It's not a matter of going or staying," Jilly had replied. "It's a part of you. This'll just make it easier for us to talk about it. You know, like our own secret code."

Jilly liked codes almost as much as she liked mysteries, and after any number of long conversations on the subject, Sophie finally gave in. They ended up calling it Jinx, because while it was a friendly sounding word, it still warned of its potential for disaster. And it was easier, at least among their circle of friends, to simply say "Jinx" when Sophie wasn't to be trusted around anything that could possibly be influenced by this peculiar trait of hers.

But giving the affliction an identity didn't make it any easier for Sophie to deal with the way Jinx slipped in and out of her life, or make her any less nervous in situations such as the one she was in at the moment. So while she was here in Jilly's room, she made sure not to touch or even stand too close to any of the equipment that was keeping her friend alive. Except for the call button. Had she screwed that up as well? Was the nurse now on his way to some room at the other end of the intensive care unit?

She was about to try again when the nurse came hurrying into the room.

"Sorry," he said. "I would have been here sooner but there was a problem with another patient's ventilator and the monitors at the station didn't show an emergency in here."

Jilly was going to enjoy being looked after by this nurse, Sophie had decided when she first met him. Daniel was as handsome as a soap opera doctor, tall, dark-haired, ready smile, gentle eyes. If you had to be sick, you might as well have a dreamboat for a nurse.

"Why did you call for me?" he said.

He didn't look at her as he spoke, his gaze traveling over the array of monitors before settling on Jilly's bruised features. Sophie eased his obvious concern by explaining what had happened.

"Did she seem lucid?" he asked.

Sophie had to smile. With Jilly, how could you even tell? But she nodded.

"She was a little confused," she said, "but she recognized me right away and knew she was in a hospital. She didn't seem to be aware that she'd been hurt."

"That's not too unusual in a case like this," Daniel told her. "There's often a certain amount of disorientation, even amnesia sometimes, but it rarely lasts long. I'll have the doctor come in to check her over."

And then he was gone again.

Sophie looked back at Jilly. She seemed so fragile lying there, like a broken doll, her guileless features no longer so slack now that she'd slipped from coma into a more natural sleep. But it was still heartbreaking to see the damage that had been done to her, to know how much work lay ahead before Jilly might be her old self once again.

The two of them could have been sisters. They were of similar height, with the same slender build, though Sophie was a little bustier. Her hair was a soft auburn, tamed into ringlets, while Jilly's was usually a tangle of darker curls. Wendy likened Jilly's quick, clever features to a Rackham pixie, Sophie's softer ones to a pre-Raphaelite's painting, and strangers often mistook one for the other, then remarked on the family resemblance when corrected.

Wendy was the missing third member of their little tribe of, as Jilly liked to describe them, "small, fierce women." She was blonde, so less easily mistaken for either of them, but of a similar body shape and height, and just as tangle-haired. Though the three of them were unrelated by blood, they were sisters all the same. In the heart, where it mattered. Others had come to join their tribe — and they had become close and greatly loved, to be sure — but the three of them were its root, the core from which all their other relationships blossomed.

Rising from the bedside, Sophie bent over and brushed her lips lightly against Jilly's brow, then left the room to make some phone calls.

"Oh, my god," Wendy said. "It's like the best Christmas present anyone could get."

Sophie laughed. "And yet, it's almost summer."

She could feel Wendy's good humor come across the phone line and wasn't surprised by it. Her own body felt lighter with the weight that had been taken from it and she was more than a little giddy herself. Even the phone was behaving for her, allowing her to talk to Wendy instead of trying to connect her to someone in Japan or Germany.

"I'm coming down right now," Wendy said.

"She's asleep," Sophie warned her.

"I don't care. I was so worried."

Sophie understood. None of them had wanted to even consider what would happen if Jilly hadn't pulled through, but it hadn't been far from any of their minds all the same. Life without Jilly in it was unthinkable, but as someone had once said, fair was only the first third of fairy tale, and the world had its own agenda that didn't take anyone else's into account.

"I'm going to make a few more calls," Sophie said. "Would you mind letting Christy and maybe Sue know before you leave? I'll call the professor and the others."

"Don't forget Lou."

"I won't."

"Or Angel or —"


"Okay, okay. I'll make my calls and then I'm on my way."

Sophie smiled as she hung up. She fed another quarter into the phone and dialed the next number on her list.

Be nice to me, phone, she thought. Don't give me any trouble tonight.

For once something mechanical seemed willing to give her a break.

When Sophie finally returned to Jilly's room she thought she saw two girls peering in through the window, dark faces pressed against the glass, hair standing up in sharp spikes. She hesitated in the doorway, trapped by the impossibility of their presence, then blinked, and they were gone.

She crossed to the window and looked out, but there was no one there, of course. The ICU was on the third floor and there was no fire escape outside the window. When she lifted her gaze she saw a pair of crows in the distance, winging off against the Crowsea skyline.

Jilly would say it was the crow girls, but Sophie knew better. All she'd seen was an odd reflection on the glass. She might have an active dream life, but she didn't let it carry over into what the professor called the World As It Is. It drove Jilly crazy, but the only magic Sophie saw in the world was what people made for each other. Still, what she thought she'd seen had been disconcerting, if only for a moment.

You're just not getting enough sleep, she told herself, rubbing at her temples.

The doctor came in then and she concentrated on what he had to tell her after he'd examined Jilly.


Once upon a time ...

The forest seems familiar to me right away, but it takes me a moment to realize why. I stand there, absorbed by the towering trees that surround me on all sides, trees bigger and stranger than they have any right to be. There's next to no undergrowth, just these behemoths, their trunks so wide that five of me couldn't touch hands around them. Light pours down from the dense canopy above in golden shafts and that's when I know where I am. The cathedral effect reminds me of what I call the place that Sophie goes traveling to at night.

I'm back in the dreamlands again. The cathedral world.

It's not the city of Mabon that Sophie founded here, but a magic place all the same. It would have to be, wouldn't it, with trees like this. They must be close cousins of what Jack Daw used to call the forever trees, the giant growth that made up the first forest when the world was born.


Excerpted from The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint, Terri Windling. Copyright © 2001 Charles de Lint. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Born in Holland in 1951, Charles de Lint grew up in Canada, with a few years off in Turkey, Lebanon, and Switzerland.

Although his first novel was 1984's The Riddle of the Wren, it was with Moonheart, published later that same year, that de Lint made his mark, and established him at the forefront of "urban fantasy," modern fantasy storytelling set on contemporary city streets. Moonheart was set in and around "Newford," an imaginary modern North American city, and many of de Lint's subsequent novels have been set in Newford as well, with a growing cast of characters who weave their way in and out of the stories. The Newford novels include Spirit Walk, Memory and Dream, Trader, Someplace To Be Flying, Forests of the Heart, The Onion Girl, and Spirits in the Wires. In addition, de Lint has published several collections of Newford short stories, including Moonlight and Vines, for which he won the World Fantasy Award. Among de Lint's many other novels are Mulengro, Jack the Giant-Killer, and The Little Country.

Married since 1980 to his fellow musician MaryAnn Harris, Charles de Lint lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Charles de Lint and his wife, the artist MaryAnn Harris, live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His evocative novels, including Moonheart, Forests of the Heart, and The Onion Girl, have earned him a devoted following and critical acclaim as a master of contemporary magical fiction in the manner of storytellers like John Crowley, Jonathan Carroll, Alice Hoffman, Ray Bradbury, and Isabel Allende.

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