Fairytales for me are a magic in themselves that have such a wide scope for elaboration and interpretation for whatever sort of writer you are.
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville sees a number of fairytales woven throughout the main narratives in what is an enchantingly dark tale.
In 1899 Vienna, renowned psychoanalyst Josef Breuer is faced with an unusual patient; a beautiful young girl who claims to be a machine. He finds that his growing attraction to her interferes with not only his professional duty of care towards her, but also affects his household as well.
As well as Josef’s story, we also have the story of Krysta. Set years later in Germany, unruly Krysta is living a lonely childhood while her father works in an infirmary for “animal people”. Her behaviour never seems to improve and tragic events lead her imagination to take her to unbelievable places.
The fairy tale element was very cleverly used in this story. Some of the stories were interpretations or exaggerations of the events faced by the characters. Some seemed to be coping mechanisms employed by some characters to explain the situations they had to deal with, and there were many crossovers of the two uses. I liked how a lot of the fairytale references in this story were the harsher, more brutal versions which gave the story its dark side.
As a psychology graduate, I found the psychological aspects of the story interesting as well. The prose as a whole is very intelligent with references to history, literature and other culture which I really enjoyed. I did find Krysta as a lead character very hard to empathize with at first, but by the end of her journey, I definitely felt for her.
Gretel and the Dark is a very grown up fairytale read with strong themes and clever story telling set to fascinate from start to finish.
Below is the animated trailer for the book produced for Penguin Books by David Horsburgh and narrated by the author herself, to whet your appetite for this darkly compelling novel.