Review of THE ENCHANTED by RENE DENFELD
(review based on an advance reading copy)
My short review of this book: a great novel that skews a little away from my personal tastes. I would describe it as a literary prison novel, though that’s not at all how someone pitched the premise to me. Based on the blurb and promotion, I expected it to be more...magical - in a literal fantasy sense. Numerous quotes use the words “magic” or “magical” among words with similar connotations, but the story merely brushes up against a magical realism label with some fantastical literary metaphors.
Denfeld employs multiple viewpoints, most in third person with one inmate (the one who describes the prison as an enchanted place and observes his surroundings with an imaginative eye) recounting events in first person.
When I say the book skewed away from my tastes, I mean both in terms of content and style. As for content, I found the tone too dark and depressing and the storyline too violent. Not a surprise for a prison novel, but I’ve never hopped on board the trend of crime novels and television shows and only read or watch such material in moderation. One thing I will say in praise of the violence, though: Denfeld describes such scenes in emotional terms rather than physical ones...which I actually found more affecting. She doesn’t say in physical terms what is being done to another human being, but rather shares with the reader his confusion, his terror, and how horror can melt into numbness and later rebirth into a quietly simmering rage. Also, while I promote seeking out stories outside your own experience, I like having enough familiarity with the topic to make a judgment call on the author’s accuracy. In the case of a prison novel, I’m frankly no authority on whether or not THE ENCHANTED accurately portrays prison life.
As for style, I would call the writing dense. I found the voice hard to follow every time I opened the book again, but would gradually fall into step with the story’s particular rhythm as I kept reading. The author opts, quite deliberately from what I could guess, for far more telling than showing - often summarizing dialogue rather than writing out a conversation, etc. I also found the magical realism elements (or literary metaphor, as I interpreted them) more distracting from the actual story than a meaningful embellishment.
My favorite part of this book has to be the assorted quotes that so perfectly present a sliver of truth - especially those that speak about life and humanity overall rather than prison specifically. As one example: “I know there are some...who think ideas are like food they can taste and then spit out if they don’t like.”
Though technically this can be said of any book, I consider THE ENCHANTED a particularly taste-specific novel. I liked this book, but the right readers will doubtless absolutely adore it.