Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville is a difficult book to review. Yes I know, it seems to be what every reviewer is saying about this novel but its true. To review this book, to say anything in detail about it, is to give away the plot twists that make this book as powerful a novel that it is. But I will try to validate the positive review I believe this fantasy, drama deserves. Without telling you too much about it.
“..’Very well Lilie. Continue. What profession did you father follow?’
‘Father?’ The slightest of frowns creased her forehead and her voice became that of one reciting a learned text. ‘He collected bones from charnel-houses, and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame.’
Josef blinked and leaned forward, suddenly excited. ‘Ah , a quote from Mary Shelley-you allude to Frankenstein.’ He hesitated. They were approaching quagmire ground. Dead mother, unnatural father-the very situation warned against in old fairy stories. It was, moreover, Sigmund’s territory. ‘So this is the monster, then? Your father?’
For a fraction of a second, Lilie lifted her eyes to his. ‘Frankenstein wasn’t a monster. He was the maker of monsters…”
Dr. Josef Breuer, in 1899 Vienna, a much celebrated psychoanalyst is brought a new patient. A young beautiful woman, found naked and beaten. She has no memory of who she is. She instead claims to be a machine. He calls her Lilie.
Many years later, in Nazi Germany, a young girl named Krysta plays alone while her father works in an infirmary next to her home. Krysta is a spoiled child, whose mother is dead, and often drifts off into a world of fairy tales. A world of make believe that becomes more real than her own.
The two, Lilie and Krysta, hold onto a world of imagination and stories that they wrap around themselves to keep the reality of the world they are living in away. But as their worlds are invaded by the outside world, their strength is tested.
“…I try doing what I’ve always done-escape into that secret part of me where by magic or heroism I make things turn out differently, leaving behind an automation, a machine with no feelings whatsoever-but today I can’t. A door has closed. The ideas have gone. The words aren’t there. Perhaps this is what happens when you invent stories inside stories that are themselves inside a fairy tale: they become horribly real…”
Gretel and the Dark, is in its essence a story of survival. A tale of the power of the mind to override whatever the body is suffering. To take the powerless to a place where they have some power. To a place they do not feel anymore. This is where Lilie and Krysta find themselves. This is where they feel they must be to survive.
Gretel and the Dark is a fairy tale but it is not. It is a psychological thriller, but then it is not. It is all of these and none.
Gretel and the Dark is a dark and moving tale.
It is very much a good read.