Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Image 1I’m not sure where to start with this one. I bought it mostly based on the title, and the enthusiasm of the publisher. I deliberately didn’t look up the description and dove in without knowing what to expect. What I was met with was a grim-yet-gorgeous look at the precarious world within old prison walls. The story is narrated by an unnamed inmate who awaits his date with death along with a cellblock of others who have landed themselves on death row. A death row investigator, known only as “the lady” is hired to take on the case of a man named York and overturn his sentence so that he may live out a life sentence rather then face execution.  A priest, a warden, and a young boy also make appearances, speckling the story with their own versions of suffering, from a cancer-stricken wife to memories of an abusive childhood.
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Our narrator, the inmate, is delicate, haunted, and imaginative. He is also mute. He is acutely sensitive to the magic of the prison, which he calls the “enchanted place”. It sighs with sorrow. It trembles with the energy of a stampede, and it unnerves him with the tinkering of tiny hammers inside the walls. All this magic seems to be spurned from his years of confinement, like a coping mechanism. The inmate-narrator also seems to have the ability to see and sense everything that is going on in the prison, including the emotions and desires of others (a privilege that is only passable due to the character’s position as “narrator”). And even though we feel for him, we know very little about why he has landed on death row, and this vagueness allows us to trust him without judgement as he pulls us through the story. Instead, the “villains” become several other characters in the novel. Interestingly, none of them appear to be the ones on death row, for the author gives us a clearer, more thorough glimpse inside their psychology and a better understanding of their characters so that we can sympathize with them more. The ones who remain one dimensional are the ones who we have less sympathy for, such as the corrupt and opportunistic prison Officer and his jailed informants.

Image 2The subject matter in the novel is haunted and terrible. This is not a happy book, but it is swaddled in such delicate and enthralling writing that Denfeld creates another world to explore things that could shatter anybody. Using only the loveliest metaphors to describe the horrors that plague these characters, The Enchanted is a unique and devastating approach to lives and pasts and stories that are so full of despair. The Enchanted explores the resilience, imagination, and hopefulness that one can find behind stone walls, and the forces, both awful and good, that bleed out of the human spirit, like a dark (or golden) horses.

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