In Gretel and the Dark, two stories run parallel with one another. The first begins in Vienna in 1899, where a ‘celebrated psychoanalyst’ named Joseph Breuer 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’. The second story takes place years later. Protagonist Krysta’s father works in the infirmary, so she is forced to play alone, ‘lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel [and] The Pied Piper of Hamelin‘.
The prologue begins in an interesting manner, which one thinks is about to build a haunting story. Its beginning line intrigues, as well as building up a sense of rather stifling foreboding: ‘It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children’. Just that one sentence and the prologue which hinges upon it is enough to send chills down the spine. The way in which Granville makes even nature seem sinister within the prologue works marvellously – ‘Cabbages swell like lines of green heads’, for example. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? I was expecting, particularly after reading the prologue, to find an atmospheric and creepy novel. Why, then, does the rest of the novel not follow suit?
The prologue, as I have said, is deftly crafted, but I felt that the writing from the first chapter onwards detracted from its more enigmatic qualities, making it seem like part of a different book entirely. If the novel had continued in the same way, I would imagine that the novel would be spellbinding. Granville has used a first person perspective in the prologue and then switches to the third person when the novel proper begins. It became lacklustre quite quickly, and whilst I loved the sound of the book, it did not at all live up to my expectations. I did not like it enough to read it to its end.