Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

GRETL
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
Publisher: Penguin Imprint – Hamish Hamilton
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (358 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-siècle Vienna and Nazi Germany—with a dizzying final twist.

Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer—celebrated psychoanalyst—is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings—to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta’s Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the ‘animal people,’ so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more. And when everything changes and the world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed. . . .

Gretel and the Dark is a strange mixture of genres. Historical, fantastical and sometimes sadly romantic, it keeps the reader yearning for more details of its protagonist’s life, right up until the end. There are three distinct time periods which make up the narrative of the book. One is in the past, one the assumed present and one becomes the new, later, present towards the end of the book. It becomes apparent as the pages go by that these narratives are intertwined. Fairytale links help to support this, as well as the similarities in characters.

The protagonist in this book does not have an easy ride and this is not a traditional romance by any means. There are some romantic elements but these are often sad, seemingly impossible, or darkly one-sided. The main character faces paedophilia and cases where men much older are keen to be intimate with her. However, these implications are subtly done and not too graphic to read. They are along the lines of saying the man placed his hand on her bum and forgot to remove it or that he touched under her skirt where the woman said no man should. These instances are by no means present throughout the whole book but it is a recurring theme in light of the historical time period the main character experienced.

The novel covers the time period of Hitler, pre-Hitler and post genocide. The protagonist and her love interest are the main sweet romantic thread. They make it through horrific scenarios together and come out stronger but this is not a tale which ends in marriage and kids. The ending reminded me of the bitter-sweet movie PS I love you; even though it didn’t end in death, it made me tear up. This is not a feel-good novel.

The fantastical elements consist of the protagonist’s imaginings and fairytales or old wive’s tales remembered from her youth and threaded into the narrative. In one case this was used repetitively to imply the rape of the protagonist as a child by older men to avoid any graphic descriptions. However, this is also used to show the child’s shaky grip on reality and their need to escape it for a better world, where she can make a difference to the outcome of her life. The fairytales may be dark but they hold the determination of a strong woman, prepared to battle the monster behind her misfortunes.

I gave this book 4.5 stars because, despite all the strong thematical links and historical references, the beginning of the book was too full on. Too many fantastical references were thrown at the reader at once. I would have preferred a slower opening. I also found that I did not pick up on the historical links until much later in the book. Someone thinking along more historical lines would have made the connection a lot earlier but because nothing like this was mentioned in the prologue, I assumed this was merely a dark tale based upon a fairytale, with no real life, historical links.

However, I believe a reader will feel the emotional pulls of history through this book, following in the footsteps of a character full of hope, obstinance and determination to survive and have her own way. She can be too stroppy, as most children can, but she makes it through terrible times off her own back and, through her, I had a peep hole into history I could never have experienced first hand.

Comments

  1. This sounds like a fabulous read! Right up my alley. I’m curious to see how all these fairy tale elements are woven into the narrative. I am adding to my reading list. Thanks.

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