Gretel and The Dark- Eliza Granville.
The pied piper
The shadow crumples
The shadow dies
Once upon a time….
All a bit confusing right? It remains confusing for 358 pages and I’m not really sure why I continued reading.
Usually anything laced with a fairy tale retelling thrills me, but honestly this book made limited sense. One chapter is told in Vienna 1899 and the next is told In Germany ‘1940s’-not even a specific year.
In Vienna we are with Dr Josef Breuer, and we are rather cryptically told throughout that ‘he had relations’ with patients. But we never actually meet this ‘Bertha’. His creepy obsession with the new patient Lilie (who he named after a painting about lust…) just made me uncomfortable. He sends his poor assistant (who is actually the only character in this I liked) into situations where he knows he will come to harm and he treats his maid, who is constantly reminding him how loyal she is, like dirt. The first unlikable character. The second being Lilie herself. It’s not even that she is that unlikable, not in the horrible way that Josef is, but she seems to think she is a robot (which isn’t explained until much further in the book) and it establishes some kind of sci-fi element. It is not a sci-fi novel! She is inhuman and she acts it. Also butterflies seem to follow her around and I can honestly say if the reason for this was ever explained, I missed it.
Perhaps the reason we are in the ‘1940s’ and not an actual year in Germany, is because every other section we are jumping in time. We are now with Krysta, a little girl whose father works as doctor at a concentration camp. But one minute we are with her and her father in what I can only assume is the present, and the next minute we are with her and their old maid, who tells her fairy tales. Which is lovely, but the constant time changing gets annoying fast. And here is the other thing, Josef is horrible, but Krysta is an absolute spoiled brat. I’d say around 80% of her dialogue is her saying ‘won’t’ when asked to do something. She is extremely unlikable, and she isn’t even interesting. I felt absolutely no sympathy towards her at any point, even though terrible things happened in her sections of the book.
The thing is that, I have recently read Jessie Burton’s, ‘The Muse’ and I felt she done the time swaps beautifully. We spent enough time with both sides, she left us in suspense, and when it came to discovering the connection between the two, I was genuinely hooked on figuring it out, it was like a who done it and I was racing to solve it first. With this book however, I couldn’t have cared less what the connection was –Spoiler alert, it is absolute nonsense. It was really just the childish imaginings of a spoiled, privileged girl.
My biggest issue with this book, was the languages. I understand that the characters would speak their own language to each other, so when things are repeated to explain it to the reader, it sounds silly. Things like Frau and Herr Doktor add authenticity to it, these words I like to see throughout and would actually expect. But when the maid asks ‘Perhaps a rakott palascinta to follow? I know how fond you are of sweet pancakes’ –this sounds ridiculous, he knows what she is saying so why would she explain it? Things like this happen throughout and most of the conversations end up sounding silly and how no one would actually speak to one another.
This is one of the more difficult books I have ever read, and my love for fairy tales made me continue with it, but I just didn’t enjoy it and even the fairy tale parts were unfortunately not enough for me.