I love an absolutely gorgeous novel like Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the story so masterfully constructed; however, I hate asking myself to try to write about it. There is so much I want to say but so much I can miss saying. I loved every word from page one until the final. The novel is so adept at capturing feeling. It was arresting in parts and beyond moving in others.
The storyline revolves around an inmate on death row, who has decided that he wants to die rather than trying to get off. It’s this wish that spawns a strong investigation into his background to essentially save him from his desire (an irony noted throughout). The best part is the narrator is another death row inmate awaiting his own time, and he incredibly walks us through the time leading up to the execution, following several subplots that tie together so perfectly. The investigation is conducted solely by a woman who is in search of much more than clues to save this man’s life.
I find it strange that I chose this after finishing Annihilation. Again, veiled writing is at the heart of this novel. Perhaps that isn’t as uncommon as I like to believe, maybe I just haven’t noticed the trend. Anyway, it serves this story so well. It creates a dreamlike and ethereal state — a transportation mechanism that lifts us out of this pit of darkness (a prison).
Names (or the lack of their usage) have a particular role in setting this veiled atmosphere. When I first started thinking about this novel as a whole, I came up with the idea that only the fractured are nameless. Those that are whole are called by name. York (the inmate who wants to die) is named because he seems to be in a place of acceptance, becoming one with his fate. Also because his character has history and his name seems to be a key to unlocking that history. Those without names are sheltered. Their names and ultimately histories are shaded.
Even the location is nameless. As the novel opened, I had a hard time determining the location and time. But that slowly came into focus even though it still remained quite vague. And so I questioned: is there a point to all of the veiling? Is it for us to see our selves in these figures? If they remain shadow archetypes, can we easily project ourselves onto them? Or does the removal of a name reduce the opacity of these characters for us to see into them?
Those were the questions that I pondered and then it dawned on me, of course, the veiled storytelling is the narrator’s doing. The narrator: a death row inmate, the one who keeps telling us that this prison is an enchanted place. Another unreliable narrator. He hasn’t left his cell in years, so how would he know about what information the Lady is digging up? How would he know what was going on in the world above with the White Haired Boy? How oculd he have access to any of this knowledge? “This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do” (1), he tells us.
In fact, the narrator remains under his blanket most of the time, so it’s hard to imagine he knows anything about what is going on. So I’m going to ruin part of the discovery for you and contend that The Enchanted is our narrator’s own personal fairy tale to get him through the last moments of his life.
After all, he says he sees “the most enchanted things you can imagine” (1, emphasis mine). We are in the trenches of his imagination, his mind. “I want to tell you while I still have time,” (1). Tell us yet he is adamant throughout that he cannot speak, and there is “no diary on the stone floor” (225) for him to tell us through.
And back to the argument of names and those who incomplete, the narrator is finally named in the end (a moment I won’t spoil here), revealing a moment of transcendence and completion.
The novel deals with perhaps one of my favorite themes: the human desire/need to be seen or known — in effect, to matter. It blends the fantastic with reality reminscent to the film, Pan’s Labyrinth. The two collide so smoothly that it becomes evident that reality and fantasy belong together.
This is a must read. Denfeld has written a memorable first novel that deserves time and attention, and maybe even a reread (for me at least!).
Favorite Passages in The Enchanted
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. (3)
I read my favorite books over and over again and each time found new things inside them, as if the writers had put in new words in my absence. (14)
— Love this quote … couldn’t agree more
I would think for hors how strange it was that some parts of words are silent, just like some parts of our lives. Did the people who wrote the dictionaries decide to mirror language to our lives, or did it just happen that way? (19)
I think that in the outside world, names come with meanings. A Harriet might bring forth a Samuel, and he is followed by a Dan, maybe, or a Susan. The names are connected like cords of life, each breathing into another and those names go searching to breathe into others, so the whole idea of a family tree is not a dead spine but a living breathing thing, with roots under clean soil, and bright sparkling branches hungry for the sky. When someone dies in the outside world, the other names go on breathing, seeking, creating, so that the tree seeds into the fertile forest floor, and it all continues. (38)
— Beautiful prose and explorative of the power of names
if there are things inside us too tiny to see, might there be things outside us too big to believe? (49)
Well — I suppose some things don’t need names, do they (59)
we know life cannot be contained on a slogan or a prayer tablet. We know that kindness rules with the fist and chains rule with a turn to the sky, that all humans require penance and without it we all seek punishment, over and over again, until the body and mind are satisfied and we die. (131)
Jesus made a last walk, I think, and so did Hitler. We all get a turn. (135)
I wouldn’t want the idea of this thing to be in the world. Ideas 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 would leave. Until you do something about it. (149)
Time is measured in meaning … It is meaning that drives most people forward into time, and it is meaning that reminds them of the past, so they know where they are in the universe. (154-55)
I will go as I have hoped to become: forgotten. (225)
— This statement hit me hard. My tears started on this sentence.
She is murmuring something, a word that sounds like the most precious word of all, after someone’s name, and that word is the same as the one I wrote to her on the inside of my book: Love. (233)