Published by Penguin Australia on 26 March 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Horror
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Gretel and the Dark is Eliza Granville's dazzling novel of darkness, evil - and hope.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 real world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed . . .
“Yes, life is hard,” whispers Erika, “but knowing about other people, other civilisations, other ways of living, other places – that’s your escape route, a magical journey. Once you know about these things, no matter what happens, your mind can create stories to take you anywhere you want to go.”
This is not the fairy tale I expected. I am not even sure it should be classed as a fantasy, and it should definitely not be classified as Young Adult! This is not a genre specific book – it breaks down the barriers between reality and fantasy; historical and mythological, it is one of the most unique novels I have ever read.
Gretel and the Dark follows two distinctive narratives. In 1899, Doctor Josef Breuer has a new mysterious patient, Lilie. She is discovered outside a lunatic asylum, naked, bald, and malnourished and clearly the victim of some terrible abuse. She claims she is a machine sent to Vienna to kill a monster. With the help of his young servant, Benjamin, Dr. Breuer endeavours to discover the route of her psychosis.
The second narrative takes place many years later and is that of a rather precocious and obnoxious little girl, Krysta, who after the scandalous death of her mother, moves with her father to live near the ‘animal-people’. While her father works at the hospital (he is a doctor) she does her best to offend and alienate all the staff sent to look after her. She yearns to go back to her old home where the servant, Greet, used to tell her the most amazing and terrifying tales. When tragedy strikes again, little Krysta is thrust into her own terrifying nightmare.
Fairy tales are cleverly and strikingly interwoven throughout the novel. They are not the ‘happily-ever-after’ kind, but the original fairy tales weren’t either.
It took me some time to become completely absorbed in the story, but once it happened, I couldn’t put the book down. Eliza Granville’s use of beautiful rich writing, full of imagery, metaphors and other such lovely literary devices, made for a captivating and atmospheric tale. For example: “where ravens are busy gouging out the eyes of young wheat.” Both beautiful and terrifying right!
Some readers have listed this as a YA novel. It is not! It is very dark and deals with some very disturbing adult themes including extreme violence, child abuse and sex slavery. It is hard-hitting and at times horrific.
Yet amongst all the bleakness is always that glimmer of hope, and that is what kept me going. There is also a mysterious connection between the two narratives. I thought I had it all figured out, but I didn’t. Will you?
– a haunting and mesmerising story.