The Enchanted by Rene Denfield

The EnchantedThe Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

“Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.”

This is a book about monsters. And the stories they have to tell.

Set on death row in a maximum security prison, this book is narrated by a man whose name and crimes we are not told. Through him, we see the lives of men inside the prison – those who long for death, those who would do anything to escape it, those who came to prison for petty crimes and ended up paying far more than their crimes were worth. We also see the lives of others – a priest who wonders about redemption, prison guards who believe that some men deserve to die, and a lady who wants to save them all even though she isn’t always sure why.

The Enchanted is about humanity at its worst, at its most monstrous. It’s a gritty, highly disturbing read that contains all manner of sexual abuse, violence and drug use. But it is also a beautifully-written debut novel that will haunt me for a long time. I thought it managed to pack many experiences into a short amount of pages without seeming over-burdened by them, introducing many different characters and developing them all into interesting – albeit often despicable – human beings.

I admit that the death penalty is an area that I like to steer my mind away from and I’m glad I live in a country where it isn’t up for much debate. My initial instinct is always to see it as a bad thing, to decry it as being a violation of something fundamental… but perhaps I am a hypocrite, because I’m certain I wouldn’t feel so forgiving if the victim was someone I loved. Then again, what if the culprit was? I don’t even know. Most people, when asked, would say they’d go back and kill Hitler if they had the chance, so I guess nearly all (if not all) of us are willing to cross the line sometimes. We all just define the line differently.

But, despite what I initially wondered might be the case, this isn’t a book about pushing a message. Or that’s not what I took from it. I don’t think this is about whether or not the death penalty should be used or whether or not people deserve to die, it is far more complex than that. If there is any message here, it’s that everyone – even monsters – has a story.

“A woman who let men come and go through her door for years, to molest her baby. Not out of evil but for a reason that’s harder to accept: she didn’t know better.”

The ending surprised me and has continued to leave me feeling hollow and haunted – in a good way, I might add. I understand that this won’t be a book for everyone and I don’t want to play down some of the vivid descriptions of vile acts and upsetting scenes, but if you think you can stomach it, I highly recommend this book. It was a simultaneously beautiful and ugly story, based on the author’s own experiences as an investigator on death row, and I really hope Denfield writes more in the future.

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