What’s it all about?:
A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-siècleVienna 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. . . .
Eliza Granville has had a life-long fascination with the enduring quality of fairytales and their symbolism, and the idea for Gretel and the Dark was sparked when she became interested in the emphasis placed on these stories during the Third Reich.
What did I think?:
I’m a bit of a sucker for a fairy-tale as some of you will know so when I saw this book in the Oxfam bookshop in Tottenham Court Road (fantastic bookshop by the way) I couldn’t resist buying it. What I wasn’t expecting was a story that profoundly moved me bringing me close to tears on more than one occasion. There are two story-lines for the reader to follow in this novel, the first is set in 1899 where psycho-analyst Josef Breuer comes across the strangest case of his life. A young woman is found in the streets by one of his house-keepers naked and half-starved with a shaved head and tattoos on one of her arms, appearing dreadfully confused. Josef takes her into his house, calling her Lilie and after some time and on further examination she claims that she is in fact a machine with only one purpose, to rid the world of a certain “evil.” Josef is fascinated and intrigued by her and despite the protests of his maid Gudrun who views Lilie with suspicion (and perhaps jealousy?) he continues to keep her in his house to study her more closely. The longer she stays the more mesmerised he becomes by her strange beauty. However, danger is afoot as a relationship develops between her and one of his staff while tension, trouble and anti-semitism mounts in the city.
The second thread in the story is set years later and involves a young girl called Krysta who is incredibly spoiled and selfish and leads the poor house-keeper in charge of her care a merry dance attempting to keep her under control. Her father works locally as a doctor in a place Krysta knows as “a zoo for the animal people,” and with her mother being dead, Krysta is left in the care of a maid called Greet who fills her head with grim and quite frightening fairy-tales that seem to be the only way of ensuring her good behaviour. One day, Krysta happens to meet a young boy about her own age who is a member of her fathers “zoo,” and he is desperately hungry. Krysta cruelly mocks him as he searches the earth for worms to eat but when a disastrous event occurs in Krysta’s life she soon understands what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence.
I’m so glad I picked this book up, Eliza Granville has a way of writing that is dark and emotive which makes it incredibly compelling to read. With a beautiful prologue that draws the reader in from the very first page the writing is top-class and cannot be faulted. I also loved the emotions that I felt towards the different and very well drawn characters. Krysta is easily one of the nastiest young girls I have ever met in literature and I was surprised by how much hatred her actions aroused in me. Karma is not so good to her unfortunately and by the end of the novel she redeems herself slightly with the struggles she goes through later. The fairy-tales that Greet told to her young charge were wonderful and really brought a new level to the story, they were almost my favourite part to be honest and I almost felt like Krysta, rubbing her hands in glee as a new story was about to be told. And the ending! I can’t talk about it for fear of spoilers but believe me the two strands are brought together in such an insightful and thrilling way. Overall, it was very hard for me to put this book down, it was a fantastic introduction for me to this author’s work and an emotional and exciting journey. Basically, I’m really excited to see what she does next!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):