The Enchanted

Book Reviews / Sunday, June 15th, 2014

IMG_0184I read The Enchanted the second week of last month (May).  It took me three days.  Once I got started I felt I needed to read it quickly or I’d stop reading it and never finish.  This is the story of prison, prisoners, the people who work there, and the system.  It starts with a beautiful passage introducing us to this enchanted place.  “This is an enchanted place.  Others don’t see it but I do.  I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.  I see the airways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air.” (The Enchanted p. 1)  From there this mysterious prisoner recounts the ins and outs of this “enchanted” place and the people in it.

The rest of the story is recounted in a third person that remains omniscient, even though we know this prisoner is real, even though we don’t his name (until the end).  He knows everything about the prisoners and the people who work there.  This is not really plausible but the reigning of magical realism scattered throughout the story allows for this.  By page 60 I was already a bit detached from the story because of this.  It didn’t help either that some of the main characters didn’t have names. They were referred to as the Lady, the Priest, and the Warden.  This made me detached from them.

I always seem to have a problem with magical realism in novels when its purpose is not defined correctly in the story.  The problem with the magical realism in this one is that it seems to be nothing more than a device to soften the horrors of the story.  Reading about violence and sexual abuse for 233 pages was difficult for me.  It didn’t get better as it went along.  It got worse.  The unfolding of the traumatic backgrounds of the different characters reinforced the points they have in common. There seemed to be no optimism or light at the end of the tunnel anywhere.   Denfeld obviously had an agenda when she wrote this novel and I felt slightly manipulated while reading it.  She used her personal experience to give realism to the story and that coupled with excellent prose adds a certain strength to the novel.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up if I would have known what it was really about.  It was very heavy and there were passages that were difficult for me to read.  The abuse and violence seemed to be unfaltering.  However the writing is very astute and to the point.  It is one of the strongest points about the book.

Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator, so she deals with death row clients as well as working with at-risk adolescents.  She has written a few other non-fiction books and articles in magazines.  She will most likely get much recognition for this novel because of the importance of the subject.  The Enchanted is fiction and deals with prison life differently than what is normally expected for this kind of work.  Her novel is already being hailed as possibly the best novel of 2014.  So, if you’ve read The Enchanted comment below and tell me what you thought about it?  Do you think it’s the best novel of 2014? Did you like the ending?

2 Replies to “The Enchanted”

  1. I tried to read this one when I had the ARC in the winter, but actually got too freaked out by the descriptions. I thought the language was beautiful, and the fact that she was able to disturb me so much without resorting to horror was a sure sign of good writing but… I had to put it down halfway through. And based on your review here, I would have been mighty upset had I tried to finish. I usually love scary books, but this one had too much human despair at the heart of it.

    And I agree without about how she seemed to have an agenda. The book will certainly shake up readers and open their eyes to real life horror, so maybe that’s a success?

    1. I’m glad someone agrees with me because so many of my reader friends love this book a lot. Like they 5 star love it. I did a review of it over on You Tube but I’m still in the minority on giving it 3 stars. It’s a good book but I didn’t love it! I’m sure it will bring more attention to the realities of prison life as well as capital punishment. I do agree with you that it was pretty creepy throughout and the depth of human despair horror and tragedy was real.

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