This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it but I do.
–The enchanted - Rene Denfeld - c.2014
ISBN : 9780297870517
When I hear death row I usually don’t think “enchanted”, and I usually don’t look for books set in prisons or about people awaiting execution. But all last year, and before, whenever The Enchanted was mentioned it was usually followed with plenty of praise and good things.
Some parts of this novel are told from the point of view of an inmate of death row. We aren’t told his name for most of the book, so I won’t mention it here, although it isn’t a spoiler to know. Other parts are third person narrated. So we get a close up look at life for a particular prisoner, and then a broader look at the prison and where various prisoners have come from. The warden’s home life, the investigator who delves into the lives of the soon to be executed, the fallen priest who ministers as best he can, various prisoners and guards.
It is a great read.
It is a book about how books and stories can offer freedom and the chance to experience other worlds and lives. Readers will probably be able to appreciate that aspect. It is mainly a book about the damage people do to one another, and how society creates monsters. It is about acknowledging that sometimes it really is society that is to blame for murderers and rapists. But it never tries to make light of the horrors of those acts. It never attempts to let anyone off the hook for their own deeds. The Enchanted seems to be saying that there must be a better way, a different way. And why can’t we help before these monsters are created instead of waiting until they have committed these terrible crimes to act.
And to be honest, if someone told me that about this book I’d probably think, hmmm, sounds interesting, but I doubt I’d feel any real desire to read it. So I’ll just say that it is also a beautifully written book. The first person narrator sees the world in a very different way to us, he sees golden wild horses running free where others feel earthquakes. He sees the world as though he inhabits a magical-realism book, while all the others live in a more normal world. He is the one who sees the prison as an enchanted place.
Denfeld herself is a death penalty investigator who works with men and women facing execution so there is a real sense of authenticity about the horrors of life in prison, about the damage prison life does to everyone. The corruption, the crimes that go on there. But it is her style of writing that makes it such a great book to read, it is so easy to just keep on reading, despite some of the horrible things that are described, I never felt like taking a break from it, or needed to put it down. I could have read it in one sitting if life hadn’t been going on.
For my first read of 2016 it has certainly set a high standard.