Hamish Hamilton £14.99. Order for £12.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Gretel and the Dark By Eliza Granville, book review: 'Emotionally charged mix of fairytales and fascism'
Tuesday 04 March 2014
Vienna, 1899. Still reeling from the fallout of the erotic transference with a previous patient named Bertha Pappenheim, celebrated psychoanalyst Josef Breuer stumbles across a seemingly baffling case. A beautiful young woman is found unconscious, left as near as dead by the side of the road, there are knife wounds on her neck, she's covered in bruises and her head is crudely shorn. When she regains consciousness she claims she has no past, only making reference to a dark future. Breuer should think of her as an automaton, she says, "I wasn't born. I was created just like this", an idea that sprang into being, "charged with a very important task" – the destruction of the one she calls "the monster".
Naming her Lilie, and assuming her amnesia is the result of abuse suffered at the hands of this "monster" – maybe a husband, father or brother, or perhaps she's escaped from the city's notorious Thélème club, a "latter-day Gomorrah" – the captivated doctor sets out to uncover the truth about her identity, his enquiries catapulting his loyal servant Benjamin into the dangerous backstreets of the city, where "new envies and old hatreds" are bubbling away. But Breuer's growing attraction to the lovely young woman also incites a perilous battle for her heart.
Forty years later, and in a world where those old hatreds and envies have boiled over, we meet Krysta, a spoilt, lonely, motherless child for whom the fairytales told her by her nurse are more real than the strange reality around her. Her father is a physician who experiments on the "animal-people" kept in the "zoo" next door to their house, from which he returns home each evening obsessively washing his hands Lady Macbeth-style. After he dies in mysterious circumstances, Krysta finds herself abandoned in the nightmarish world on the other side of the zoo gates, her only source of comfort the stories she tells her doll Lottie and the other children around her, and so she spins richer and richer tales, "fat, oozing caramelized sugar, bursting with currents and spice".
Apparently inspired by the Third Reich's appropriation of folk and fairytale as ideological weaponry, Gretel and the Dark also draws on the importance of narrative and storytelling in psychoanalysis, and historical figures star alongside fictional creations. Although somewhat overly drawn out in parts, and the eliciting of emotion a little heavy-handed on occasion, overall this is an ambitious and enticing debut.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
- 2 Trevor Noah: Jon Stewart's replacement faces online criticism over 'anti-Semitic' tweets
- 3 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 4 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 5 Syrian child photographed 'surrendering to camera because she thought it was a gun'
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Menstruation-themed photo series artist 'censored by Instagram' says images are to demystify taboos around periods
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers