Official Blurb for Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
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. . . .
Admittedly, I read this book during a lazy summer a couple of years ago. This is the review I wrote then, very short on specifics and very long on the adjectives.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fantastical and atmospheric. The view through a child’s eyes can be heartbreaking and poignantly identifiable. I was swept into this imaginative, fairytale-esque account set in a historical time of horrible atrocities and dehumanizing rationalizations almost in spite of myself. The twin narratives set side by side distracted me from the continuity of story at times, but in the end merged seamlessly into a completed and coherent picture of the events. The ending sealed my experience with a kiss, touching and pleasantly surprising me in some ways and gently rewarding me for my attention and deductions in others. I was able to feel as though I, as well as the main characters, had learned something and grown from the encounter. This is a tightly-knit, streamlined book full of pathos, darkness, and fear that is a wonder to experience.
View all my reviews
More Vague Recollections
Now, thinking back on the book, I can still pick out a few more of the specifc elements that I liked about it. I mentioned the “view through a child’s eyes”: there was a realism to Krysta’s early development as bratty, selfish, entitled toddler-to-school-age child that made her later character development even more impactful as she is rudely awakened to the realities of life in her own neighbourhood. But even during her “bratty” stages, she exhibits the imaginative internalization of fairy-tales and make believe in her perceptions of things around her that also makes us like her for it and feel that she had something special as a child that she potentially loses as she matures. As her family changes, and her fortunes reverse, she comes a little more outside of herself, only to be forced back inside when she encounters the increasing coldness of the world.
And as I write this, I’m realising partially why I was so vague on specifics in my review–I don’t want to give away the ending. So, I’ll just add a few lines about the other narrative thread taking place in 1899. The experience of the doctor as he treats the mysterious automaton woman is almost as illogical and fantastical as anything Krysta dreams up in her childhood. The city is a landscape of dreams, and the doctor’s house/asylum is a perilous paradise through which we explore the psyche and trauma of the mysterious woman, so otherwordly in her elevated mind. Though the dual narrative was sometimes confusing, as I mentioned, I enjoyed both lines of story independently enough to want to continue on and see where they connected. I liked Granville’s fairy-tale-esque style of writing–inserting time jumps, and just writing illogical things into being when it suits the story in an aesthetically pleasing way… or when it is necessary to communicate a reality so dark that only the language of evil witches and horrific monsters does justice to its unreality.