Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies! I hope your week has been productive and wonderful. Recently I read another great book: Gretel in the Dark by Eliza Granville.
A dark, distinctive and addictively compelling novel set in fin-de-siècle Vienna 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.
This novel is one of the best debuts I've ever read. Its structure is a little complicated as there are two narratives woven together within the context of a fairytale. The turn of the century narrative in Vienna has magical realism elements. Lillie is found by Dr. Breuer's servant Benjamin and brought to Breuer's home. She's in pitiful shape when she arrives: She's naked, bald, and mute. As Lillie overcomes her selective mutism she confides to Dr. Breuer that she isn't human, and her mission is to kill. Her words do not match her beauty; Both Breuer and Benjamin are enchanted. The mysterious appearance of butterflies at the Breuer home adds to the magical realism atmosphere and mood, and their symbolism represents the co-narrative set in Nazi Germany. Benjamin is my favorite character in the book because he sees the world as it is and maintains his honesty.
In the Nazi Germany narrative Krysta's character isn't likable. I sympathize with her nanny Greet (her mother has passed) because Krysta is such a little pill. She tells Krysta many stories and fairytales in order to give her a moral education. When Krysta and her father move away to an insidious complex that houses "animals" not "humans," Krysta draws from Greet's stories to try and make sense of her circumstances because everyone in her world creates false narratives. Fairytales provide her construct for survival.
Beautifully written, Gretel and the Dark is as the title says: dark! I find Granville's premise about the Nazi's use of fairytales as propaganda both interesting and insidious. I highly recommend this book in spite of the disturbing narratives which merge in a surprising twist. Eliza Granville is an author I will continue to read because her voice is unique and exceptional!
Below is a video with an excerpt from the beginning of the book. It exemplifies the fairytale atmosphere and narrative style of the novel. I hope you enjoy it!