Review: Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

Title: Gretel and the Dark
Author: Eliza Granville
Genre: Historical Novel, Horror, Fairy Tale, Young Adult
Publisher: Penguin (6th February 2014)
Source: Penguin Ireland
Format: Finished copy

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.


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 ever have guessed . . .

Rating: *** (3 stars)

GRETEL AND THE DARK is a stand-alone novel by Eliza Granville. It tells the stories of two different girls, in two different counties, in two different times. Their stories unfold in interchanging chapters.

I’m in the odd position of not knowing quite how to start this review. Usually, when I start writing I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, and I certainly know what rating I want to give the book. GRETEL AND THE DARK is, without doubt, an intriguing book. In the press release from Penguin Ireland I received the book is described as “dark, distinctive and addictively compelling” and whilst I think this sums the novel up, there’s more to it than that.

Reading GRETEL AND THE DARK was, for me, an interesting experience. The plot of the novel quite frankly left me cold, but the English Literature student in me adored the way that Granville constructed the narrative. Unless I am studying a book to write a paper on it I consciously choose to ignore its structure, but Granville’s clever use of the narrative voice and the structure of the plot itself really spoke to me.

GRETEL AND THE DARK opens with an almost fairy tale feel to it. The setting and characters feel almost unreal, and you are left wondering about its significance. The rest of the novel is split into two narratives. The first, as the blurb tells you, is set in Vienna in 1899. The second is set in Germany, and it takes a while to work out when it takes place – I was quite a way into the novel before I figured it out. Each narrative has its own alternating chapter, though as the novel progresses the barrier between the two narratives becomes increasingly unclear. I was quite frustrated by this at times, though I do think it is quite a clever narrative device employed by Granville looking back on the novel.

The novel has two main female characters around which the plots of the two narratives revolve. In Vienna we find Lilie, a young lady with apparently no past. In Germany we have Krysta, the only child of a Doctor whose life has recently changed dramatically. In their own ways Lilie and Krysta are enigmatic, and I found them quite hard to relate to – to feel anything for, actually. Granville also scatters sentences in German, which are not always translated, through the text, which I found pretty trying, as I don’t speak German.

GRETEL AND THE DARK is a horror story, although it is perhaps not a typical one. As I mentioned earlier, there is almost a fairy tale feel to it – though more towards the Grimm’s end of fairy tales than Disney’s. It is one of the most adult Young Adult books I have read. At its heart I think GRETEL AND THE DARK is really a story about stories and their power. If you are a fan of horror stories and like yours a little more psychological and a bit different from the norm then you should certainly consider giving GRETEL AND THE DARK a try. Although the novel is really not my cup of tea, I did enjoy the chance to read it.

2 thoughts on “Review: Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville

  1. I’m really intrigued by this! I’m interested in the narrative structure now that you’ve mentioned it and I like the fact that it has a fairytale air to it. Will stick this on the TBR for a go! Great review Becki!


  2. Pingback: ICYMI Sunday – The FIRST One | The Flutterby Room

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