This one now goes down as an all time favourite. No doubt about it. While reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Now that I’m done I still can’t stop thinking about it. When I wake up it is on my mind, so I know it is also in my dreams.
However, I am still not sure how to review it.
Imagine the darkest fairytale you can imagine. It takes place not in the dense forest, but instead it takes place in the darkest dungeon you can imagine. Stained, dampened, dank walls. The smells are over powering. The sounds are horrifying. You can taste the bile-stale air in your mouth. You can feel the cold dampness of the air. You can smell the rot and defecation. The pain and suffering are tangible things you not only hear, but can also feel. They are so great that you can feel the heaviness of their weight.
Now imagine if you will, the narrator of this dark tell. No. It is not the beautiful child. The sweet innocent. The story-teller of this tale is the monster. And only he sees the enchantment. Only he sees the beauty around him.
He seduces you with his beautiful words. You want to trust him. You want to like him…you draw closer…when you are close enough to reach out and draw him near to you…a single ray of light shines upon his face and you can’t help but to draw back in horror. The intricate tale he has woven for you in the shadows is shattered by the light. You are suddenly faced with the reality of what a true monster looks like…you run as fast as you can. You try to escape….but as you are running away, you turn back. Just once. You see him as he just sits there. Looking at you. A sad knowing smile upon his lips. No he doesn’t chase you down as you fear. He allows you to simply walk away. But the price you must pay for your newfound freedom is the knowledge of all he has shared with you.
This is a horrible story. But it is full of beauty. It is full of unimaginable deep felt thoughts. Thoughts that I hope challenge you to seek the beauty and the good around you…no matter your circumstances. It would be a hopeless world if a single flower could never grow in the most unsuspecting places. But they do. Laughter can be found in places you expect only sorrow. One can find courage under the most frightening of circumstances. Perhaps, most importantly, we can also find love where there is too much hate and despair.
Here we have a story that is mostly told via the thoughts of one solitary death row prisoner locked in the dungeon of a nameless prison. Through his eyes we see glimpses of a kind-hearted warden. We meet a lost and discarded soul that is due to be executed in the near future. We see an unlikely hero in a young boy whose innocence was stolen. We encounter a fallen priest. And of course, we meet a lady. However, we also have to meet the villains of this tale. We must sit back and hear, feel and watch of all the evil that they do. This is perhaps truly the only way we can see the nature of the good….we must see how vile life can be to measure just how beautiful it can be as well…
There is so much darkness here. Seriously. You can feel it in your pores. Your ears are even plugged with it. You smell it. You taste it. This is how powerful Rene Denfeld’s writing is. You carry this as a dark shroud that you attempt to hide under. But there are moments when the light shines through and you are blinded by the brilliance. That blinding light is enough to allow hope, love and courage to grow. Even in places where you expect nothing but misery. Nothing but violence. Places where evil lives…If you look hard enough. Look deep enough. You too can find your enchanted place.
This is one of the best novels I have read. It is one that I believe will get better with a second reading. Or a third. I can’t believe how I stumbled upon this book. I want to share it with everyone. That is the only reason I have attempted to write a review that I know is undeserving of such a brilliant book…Perhaps I should just put insert a few quotes….sorry they are lengthy….but please understand…these are but a few…this book is overflowing with sorrow and heartbreak disguised in beautiful profound words…
“There are some things I can never discuss. One is the bad thing I did after I was released from the mental hospital when I was eighteen. I wouldn’t want the idea of this thing to be in the world. Ideals are powerful things; we should take more care with them. I know there are some who would disagree — those who think ideas are like food they can taste and then spit out if they don’t like it. But ideas are stronger than that. You can get a taste of an idea inside you, and the next thing you know, it won’t leave. Until you do something about it.
As soulless as I am, I do not want others to do what I have done. Some ideas need to stay silent inside me, like the letters inside some words.”
“Long ago, in the library, I sat on the table under a cloud. The little dust motes would fly in the window and hang above me like a halo or God in the sunlight.
For a long time I though maybe those little sparks were creatures. They could be creatures almost too tiny to see, just a little taste on the tip of your tongue. Maybe God sent them, like fire creatures, like the sparks before the beginning of life, or maybe the dust that rises from your hair after you’re dead. I would stop reading and crane my neck back to watch them swarm above me. The other inmates would jab each other and point, but I didn’t care.
Later I read that there are things inside us too tiny to see. Not even a microscope can capture them. This got me thinking — if there are things inside us too tiny to see, might there be things outside too big to believe?”
“I think what it would feel like to be a corpse valet. To lift bodies and feel the weight of their passing. How odd it is, that the dead weigh more than the living. You would think it would be the opposite, but it isn’t. I think it is because souls give bodies lightness and air. When the soul leaves, the body has nothing left and is desperate to return to the earth. That’s why it’s so heavy.
Others might feel sorry for the corpse valets. They say once you’re a corpse valet and know so many terrible secrets, the prison cannot let you go.
I like to listen for the sounds of their creaking wheels late at night. I like to think about their passage across the dusty yards in the earliest of the morning, when the mist rises off the river and the geese come swooping in, crying at the wonder of life. What a beautiful thing that must be, to feel the weight of the dead even as the earth rises and is born again.”
Until next time….
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