Book Review: Gretel and the Dark

This book dropped through my door just before Christmas, and I read it on the train to Lancashire. It arrived with a special treat, which made me like it before I’d even turned the first page:


And then the blurb also sounded pretty cool:

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 real world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed . . .

As some of you may know, I rather like the idea of being a non-human, ideally machine-based, entity living in a human world. And I’m interested in psychology and tend to like things that are set in asylums.

This book was weird though.

The storyline is catchy enough, it’ll draw you in and make you want to keep reading, which is kind of the point. And everything sort of made sense, and came together at the end in what should have been a beautiful, romantic climax. But somehow it lacked… something. I’m not explaining myself very well here, but it’s difficult to say exactly what it was that made me not entirely love it. I think the story itself was interesting, but the substance, the magic that takes a book to that other level of amazingness, wasn’t quite there.

Having said that, it is the only book I have ever read where I got halfway through and suddenly stumbled upon a passage in Romani. Seeing jekh, dui, trin, shtar, panj, shov, efta, oxto, ena, desh on a page was a very strange feeling. Romani isn’t really a language that’s often written down, and my brain started automatically reading the words before the rest of me caught up and went “Wait a second! That’s Romani jib!”

Despite not making my favourites list, it’s still worth reading, especially if you liked Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, or similar interwoven-stories-set-in-the-past things. If you were disappointed by the ending to Alice In Wonderland, you might find this one a little hard to stomach as well. But no, they don’t wake up and find that it was all a dream.

Scar’s verdict:

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