Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville

Review published on May 27, 2014.Reviewed by Sam Harby

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Josef Breuer, distinguished doctor of Vienna, has a quiet existence in his empty manor house thrown into disarray when his young gardener and dogsbody Benjamin brings in a beautiful young girl, found naked and wandering by the river bank with a cut to her throat. The girl, who calls herserlf Lilie, believes she is a machine, and Josef believes her to be the victim of a horrendous trauma. Benjamin believes she has escaped from the notorious Theleme club, rumoured for hedonistic parties and wild orgies. As both Josef and Benjamin work to discover Lilie’s past, and as they both fall in love with her, their actions bring the household to its knees and threaten their lives.

Interspersed with this story is the story of Krysta, living in Germany years later. The daughter of a doctor herself, who works for a hospital to help the ‘animal people’, Krysta becomes obsessed with stories and fairy tales via her nanny Greet, who constantly tells increasingly gruesome stories. However, moved away from Greet, and after a shocking turn of events, Krysta finds herself in the hospital with the ‘animal people’, and as the true nature of the hospital unfolds, Krysta’s life takes unimaginable turns…

Admittedly I found this book incredibly slow to start off with, and struggled to get into the two stories as they swap and change between each other. However, while the pace at the beginning may be a problem, the story seriously gathers pace after the first 100 pages and becomes compelling as Lilie and Krysta’s stories unfold. As the stories develop and begin to intertwine, the situations of both Lilie and Krysta slowly begin to reveal themselves and urge you to read more. The final chapters of the book also hold an imaginative twist that is well worth the wait.

The novel deals with the nature of trauma amd memory and the use of stories as a coping mechanism. Indeed, the novel constantly explores the nature of fairytales as allegories and the traumatic nature of their subject matter, masked by a story intended for children. Frequently Krysta escapes into stories to deal with her childhood and her situation, and Lilie herself seems to spin a story around her own life in her reinvention as an automaton, both as ways of making sense of their world and of dealing with their own traumas. Both use tales and stories as a form of allegory for their own lives, removing themselves from the events they find themselves thrown into as a manner of coping with the horrors and atrocities of their lives.

The novel’s method of switching between the two characters is also managed effectively, giving each story a full chapter before switching to the viewpoint of the other. Whilst this may make the first few chapters quite slow, this works well by not constantly switching viewpoints and so makes the two stories easy to follow. This also allows the stories to intertwine with each other slowly and steadily and helps build up to the final plot points. Krysta’s story is also written in the present tense – as she relates her story the reader we see her reliving her past and makes her pains and the atrocities she has dealt with all the more relatable.

Overall, the novel is an excellent piece of work – while it is slow to start and can drag in places, the writing and plot certainly gains pace in the latter half of the novel and certainly makes it worth sticking with.

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Sea of Shadows, by Kelly Armstrong

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Vincent, by Barbara Stok

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