Eliza Granville - Gretel and the Dark (5 stars)

Atmospheric historical novel likely to be one of the best books of 2014

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Eliza Granville - Gretel and the Dark

(Hamish Hamilton)

Gretel and the Dark is an atmospheric and beautifully written historical novel told in two linked narratives. In 1890s Vienna, psychoanalyst Josef Breuer is treating a mysterious patient: found by a lunatic asylum, skeletally thin and with her head shaved, she claims to have no name and no past. She claims, in fact, not to be human at all.

In 1940s Germany, a spoiled young girl can’t understand why her father spends so much time bloodying his hands treating the ‘animal people’ who live in the camp beyond the fence. As the novel unfolds, the two narrative strands begin to bleed into one another: characters have the same names and use the same phrases, though they cannot be the same person.

Twined throughout are references to dark and gruesome European fairytales, which set the tone perfectly. Despite the emotive subject matter, this is a subtle and thoughtful novel. It seems soon to call it, but Gretel and the Dark will be one of the best books of 2014.

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