“It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children. Though his music has been silenced, still thousands are forced to follow him, young, old, large, small, everyone… Even the ogres wearing ten-league boots and cracking whips, even their nine-headed dogs. We are the rats in exodus now and the Earth shrinks from the touch of our feet. Spring leaves a butter taste. All day, rain and people fall; all night, nixies wail from the lakes. The blood-coloured ear sniffs at our heels. I keep my eyes on the road, counting white pebbles, fearful of where this last gingerbread trail is leading us.”
In 1899 Vienna is a dark and worrying place. Josef Breuer is a celebrated psychoanalyst yet never has he come across anyone quite as strange as the girl his Gardner finds by the lunatic asylum. Thin, head shaved and with no memory of who she is, the girl claims to be a machine. Whilst Breuer tries to find answers to her past, a connection is established between her and her saviour.
Many years later Krysta is in Germany. She is taken to live with her Papa by the ‘animal people’ zoo. Her papa works in the infirmary and Krysta plays alone, lost in her versions of Grimms tales and other stories she stays ignorant of what is going on around her. When things change for the worst Krysta falls deeper into her tales and she sees what a great gift imagination can be.
This will be a short review for my feelings on Gretel and The Dark are quite mixed, on the one hand it was beautiful and made me experience great emotion but on the other it was hard to read and very confusing.
The book has two stories interwoven. Each alternating chapter tells the story of either Dr Breuer or Krsyta and as the book goes on you start making connections. Once those connections are picked up on I started seeing the book for what it was, a brilliant piece or art that many people would enjoy. Until that point though I was lost – and that point didn’t come until very late in the book.
I have a habit of not reading the blurb for books and going on guy feeling. This comes from my belief that the blurb of many books give too much away. This was my downfall with Gretel and the Dark though as if I had read the blurb I would have picked up on what was going on much earlier than I did and perhaps would have enjoyed the book more. Krysta’s world would have made more sense for a start and I would have realised that her story was set many years after the other. For what it was though I only realised this very late on, with almost 200 pages read I finally picked up on what was going on and began enjoying the book.
The writing was complex and not a lot was explained, there were hints dropped and if you knew nothing about the time and setting of the book then you probably wouldn’t pick up on those hints. There were German and Austrian worlds dropped into the text here and there and the parts that were English contain rich vocabulary which made it almost impossible for me to read when anything else was on in the background. Gretel and the Dark was brilliant but it does demand a lot of attention and due to this, it’s storyline and it’s complex narratives I would say it’s not suitable for younger readers, in fact I think if I’d have read this in my a-level English Literature classes it probably would have been a bit much for me. It’s a great book but definitely an older YA adult crossover.
Gretel and The Dark was published on February 6th by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin books. My copy was sent from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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