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Book Review: Gretel And The Dark By Eliza Granville

Book Review: Gretel And The Dark By Eliza GranvilleGretel and the Dark on February 6th 2014
Pages: 362

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.

Book Review: Gretel And The Dark By Eliza Granville

Gretel and the Dark Book Review

Gretel and the Dark is set in Vienna in 1899 and alternates between two different stories every chapter, that of a young girl named Krysta and that of a beautiful young woman named Lillie. Krysta is a spoilt little girl who is sheltered by her father due to the loss of her mother. Her father is some sort of ‘doctor’ who works with ‘animal people’ whilst Krysta remains at home with her doll all day. Krysta is very imaginative girl who is always telling her doll stories, some of them are quite dark, and  she frequently talks of her old minder, Greet, who used to tell these stories to her. Alongside Krysta’s story we have that of Lillie, a beautiful young woman, who is discovered naked and alone in a forest. She is found and brought to Dr Josef Breuer by his young gardener, Benjamin and she is cared for in his household as they try to figure out where Lillie has come from, though she claims to not even be human and was created to kill ‘the monster’.

Prior to reading Gretel and the Dark, I had read numerous reviews, all of which were extremely positive with reviewers ranting and raving about how awesome this book was. Needless to say, I had very high expectations as a result. A lot of other reviewers emphasised how this story is an adaption of the fairytale Hansel and Gretel and the title would certainly make you believe that, but the plot is actually so much more complex than that. Whilst there are indeed many fairytales mentioned, their significance does become apparent until the end of the novel, and the story of Hansel and Gretel is not the only fairytale that features in this novel. Not only that, but this story is also a subtle look at the oppression of the jews in the build up to the World Wars, something that wasn’t at all apparent to me until I read that in someone else’s review. This theme becomes a bit clearer as the novel goes on, but I think these references are so subtle that the average reader would miss them if they haven’t been forewarned.

I have to admit that whilst I had high hopes for this novel, Gretel and the Dark did not live up to expectations for me. It’s taken me over a month to read the entire story as I didn’t really have any motivation to carry on reading. Although the story is interesting and very well written, I found it very hard to get into and I never really felt like the plot was actually going anywhere. I kept hoping that the novel would pick up and the story would become clearer but, unfortunately, I still felt this way at the end of the novel. That’s not to say that this story is boring or that there weren’t moments when I was really into it, because there were, I just didn’t feel like there was an overall movement towards some sort of finale, but instead it seemed as the majority of the novel was just setting up the world the characters were living in.

I think one of the main reasons I couldn’t really get into Gretel and the Dark is because the two alternating plot strands seemed completely unrelated for a large portion of the book. It is only towards the end of the novel that you begin to see how the two stories may fit together and how the fairytale is relevant to the story. Krysta turns from an annoying brat to someone with an extraordinary imagination but I feel like there were certain gaps in her development and I could probably think of Krysta as a different person at each of the defining moments of her story. This is a shame because her story really is fascinating and I just wish I fully understood it. Lillie’s story seemed to have much more a focus than Krysta’s and yet it didn’t fulfil this in the end. A lot of her story was spent trying to figure out who she is, where she’d come from and what her purpose is but I think this got a bit lost with all the other characters’ stories around her.

There is a sort of plot ‘twist’, or rather a great revealing, towards the end of Gretel and the Dark, but it was all just a little too late in my opinion. I will admit that said ‘twist’ was extremely clever and I definitely appreciated the ingenuity of the author in how she had constructed and written her story; however, this revelation did not actually clarify a lot of the story’s events for me. I have a vague understanding of how the two stories are related, but I’m still very sketchy on the details and to be honest, if someone asked me to explain the plot to them right now, I’m not sure I could do a particularly good job.

As I said, Gretel and the Dark is extremely well written story and the language that is used is complex and compelling and very, very dark, however, there was something that just didn’t quite mesh together in this novel. There were so many brilliant elements to this novel, but I couldn’t connect them all which left me feeling like there were bits and pieces of brilliance floating in a river that I was trying to cross, but none of them were coming together to form a bridge for me to do so safely.

This is a shame because the writing is really is very, very good, so good and complex, in fact, that I would say that this is more an adult book than a young adult book. The darker themes that are explored also make this  book more appropriate for adult or mature teen readers. My only criticism of the writing would be that a few too many phrases were in untranslated German to the point where I was sometimes really frustrated that I didn’t know what people were saying to each other. There was literally no way for me to figure out what the characters were saying which left me in the dark which I think was more a negative thing than a brilliant stylistic device.

All in all, Gretel and the Dark is a so-so book that had the potential to be phenomenal. I am definitely in the minority when it comes to Gretel and the Dark as most people who read this book were completely taken with it, giving it four or five stars, but I really didn’t connect with the story at all. Perhaps I missed a trick whilst reading it or something, but I am still so confused about so many things about this story which is incredibly frustrating. One of my main problems with this novel is that I am still in the dark about what was real and what was imaginary. In addition, what I thought was going to be the main ‘plot’, was not fulfilled at the end of the novel, at least I don’t think it was, which leaves me wondering – what was the point? I’d probably still recommend Gretel and the Dark though I’d recommend reading it very thoroughly and carefully to avoid ending up incredibly confused, as I am now.

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

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  1. Allison Leighann
    24th March 2014 / 10:50 PM

    This was super interesting! I may end up getting it anyway just because I love fairytales. 🙂


  2. Brandi Kosiner
    25th March 2014 / 3:50 PM

    The alternating POV would probably bother me as well, sorry that it didn't live up to your expectations.

  3. Ashfa
    26th March 2014 / 10:27 AM

    This is the first time I've seen this book and , wow, it looks great. Love the cover and I might pick it up soon. Loved the review!

  4. 19th April 2014 / 3:19 PM

    Ending that make confuse? I love fairytales and retelling, but, I think I&#39ll skip this book.

  5. 24th March 2016 / 1:02 PM

    It shows that when buying a book, despite the reviews, you can’t be too sure how you think and feel about it after reading.

    I have had similar experiences buying novels after reading great reviews only to feel disappointed after reading.


  6. Imogen Beth Clegg
    24th March 2016 / 1:22 PM

    I might buy this book now after reading this! sounds good 🙂

  7. Reclusive Fox
    24th March 2016 / 1:24 PM

    A fair review and good to have another point of view especially as most people love it. I have to say I am rather intrigued to read it myself now to see what I make of it.

  8. 24th March 2016 / 1:42 PM

    Totally adding this to my goodreads “to read” list! WOW! I like books like this with the alternating plots – keeps things interesting!

  9. Fatima Ali
    24th March 2016 / 2:38 PM

    This was a good read and it seems like a good book. Definitely adding it to my reading list.

  10. 24th March 2016 / 2:57 PM

    Sounds like a bit of an intense book, definitely something I’d need to be in the right frame of mind to read x

  11. Rachael Phillips
    24th March 2016 / 3:23 PM

    another one adding this to good reads, I am looking for something juicy and interesting to read over the weekend so think I may do a bit of downloading

  12. 24th March 2016 / 4:39 PM

    Ohh this sounds interesting, it is a shame you didn’t find you connected with it. x

  13. Tori Gabriel
    24th March 2016 / 4:41 PM

    This sounds a bit too intense and difficult to follow for me. I think I would find flitting from storyline to storyline a bit annoying. Still, you can’t like every book. I love reading your reviews and have discovered some great stories through them but this one can stay on the shelf.

  14. Eugenia Nazarova
    24th March 2016 / 8:20 PM

    Seems like an interesting book! Your review is so inspiring! I should check it out!

  15. 24th March 2016 / 8:28 PM

    This sounds good. Definitely reading a sample of this.

  16. 24th March 2016 / 9:35 PM

    Hmm, the premise does sound really interesting. It definitely doesn’t sound like a casual read but the concept really makes me want to try it.

  17. 24th March 2016 / 9:46 PM

    The plot does sound rather confusing so I am not sure how I will feel about that but I am always willing to give things a go.

  18. 24th March 2016 / 10:21 PM

    I know what you’re saying. It reminds me of a movie rather than a book – that won lots of prizes, in which a boy was filmed aging in real time. I felt the passing threw were too abrupt and it didn’t made me like it at all.

  19. Lana Lytwyn
    24th March 2016 / 11:50 PM

    I haven’t heard of this book before, but I feel like I want to read just to make my own opinion since some seem to love it and some seem to find a disconnect. Thanks for your review!

  20. The Practical Saver
    24th March 2016 / 11:53 PM

    This is a perfect review. I’l check it out when I visit Barnes and Noble again.

  21. Laura
    25th March 2016 / 1:51 AM

    I like the fact that the book alternates between two different stories, cool idea! xxx

  22. ratisha goyal
    25th March 2016 / 4:12 AM

    So fascinated I’m with this book now. Can’t wait to lay my hands on it. Awesome review.

  23. Elizabeth
    25th March 2016 / 6:37 AM

    Sounds intriguing! This is just my sort of book topic, but your review makes me question whether it’s worth reading. Great review!

  24. Natalie Jones
    25th March 2016 / 5:12 PM

    I hate it when a book doesn’t live up to expectations! Did the alternating chapter story lines get confusing?

  25. 25th March 2016 / 9:17 PM

    Oh how frustrating when a book seems to take forever to read. Even when a good twist occurs it somehow doesn’t make up for the time. Hope your next read is a winner!

  26. charlibruce
    26th March 2016 / 10:14 AM

    It’s so annoying when a book isn’t what you’re expecting it to be, I hope your next read is a better one x

  27. 26th March 2016 / 10:40 AM

    I like it when at the end of a story, I don’t know what was true and what was not true… I’ve watched a movie like this and I decided to watch it a second time to see what I have missed. It shows how sometimes our brain tries to find what is rational (sometimes, nothing is rational) 🙂

  28. Jessica Dearnley
    26th March 2016 / 12:40 PM

    This sounds like a really interesting book, it’s a shame you were a little disappointed.

  29. Bex Smith
    26th March 2016 / 1:22 PM

    Sounds like an interesting plot line, what a shame it was only so so for you.

  30. Ami Rose
    28th March 2016 / 10:28 PM

    What a great review. I’m not sure it’s something I’d enjoy reading but I’ll be sure to recommend it to others. I get confused far too easily.

    Ami xx

  31. Natasha Mairs
    29th March 2016 / 1:54 PM

    There seem to be a lot of revamped old fairy tale books about, not read any yet, but would love to give this a read

  32. Franco Buot
    31st March 2016 / 3:54 PM

    Interesting story. I have a bookworm friend and I can’t wait to share this to her

  33. 3rd April 2016 / 11:40 AM

    oh this sounds great I love a story with a twist to keep me guessing

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