Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

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RATING: 2.5/5

BLURB: “Vienna, 1899: Josef Breur – celebrated psychoanalyst – is about 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, Breur 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 fairytale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could ever have guessed…As the shadows and echoes between them multiply, it becomes clear that these two interwoven narratives are the interwoven threads of one much bigger story, which scours the darkest, most shameful places of twentieth-century history and reveals – in a dizzying final twist – a path back out to the light.”

REVIEW: This book is a very difficult one to review due to the complex and surprising nature of its storyline. Somewhat ironically, given its title, the book was a lot darker than I expected it to be and highly distressing in parts, especially the scenes involving Krysta, a young girl who is orphaned after the murder of her father, a doctor undertaking experiments on patients for the Nazi regime. The double narrative of the story demonstrates an extremely impressive level of skill in Granville’s writing, as both stories – that of the mysterious ‘robot’ Lille and the orphaned Krysta – take many twists and turns and are sometimes confusing to follow. When the reader discovers the link between the two tales it is indeed a great surprise, though we then begin to notice the small clues that are littered throughout the book in order to help us reach this conclusion. Yet, although shocking and upsetting, the link between the two stories is clumsily revealed and somewhat difficult to understand at first. I also found the book very difficult to get into and only really found myself hooked in around the last 20-30 pages. The storyline of the book is extremely ambitious and although I understand what Granville was trying to do, I personally got little enjoyment from the book and found is difficult to understand at times – though I am sure that other readers may fare better with this very well-written but complex work.

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