I can't recall a book I've consumed so ravenously or recommended so fiercely as The Enchanted. Given the subject matter — death row, its inhabitants, its agents, its reach, and the woman trying to stay its hand — I expected something grim, unsettling, hard to stomach. What I got was all those things and something I wasn't expecting: lovely. Denfeld has a remarkable grasp on language, and she uses it here to stunning effect. When I wasn't reading this book, I was craving it, and when I reached the end, I cried. Because it was beautiful, but also because it was over. Recommended By Tove H., Powells.com
Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted is a book like no other. Set in a crumbling prison, the characters are the prisoners on death row, the grieving warden, the corrupt guard, the lady trying to stay the execution, the fallen priest, the white-haired boy, the horrified mother, and the inside drug lords. Almost no one has a name, and of those that do, their names seem to cause some inner shudder; they are so evil. But, not completely. Underneath their crimes are crimes against them; and the sorrow and pain circle around and around.
The prison is enchanted with the golden horses who run on a rampage underneath the prison; molten flames flying off their manes. Yet, also enchanting it are the horrible flibber gibbets who gobble up the heat of the newly dead and the terrifying small men with tiny hammers in the wall. Beauty and horror walk hand-in-hand here.
The Enchanted is narrated by a nameless, omniscient death row inmate, who sees far and wide and deep as well. Through him we learn the stories that led the inmates to prison, as well as the unbearable reality that is prison. "The cell coagulates with an acrid smell that the boy doesn't know but instantly recognizes. It is the smell of terror, and it is coming from him. Something like barbed wire constricts his heart, and it is impossible to breathe. He knows now why he is here."
The Enchanted is absolutely chilling, yet with Denfeld's spare, quiet prose, it is one of the most gorgeous and stunning things I have ever read. Living in this book for a week, I felt broken open, shattered, and crushed by both the unspeakable horror and the unbelievable beauty. The Enchanted is ripe with themes on crime, punishment, survival, and love; Denfeld will break your heart, but she will also knit it back together for you. If you only read one book this year, make it this one. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
For the narrator locked inside an ancient prison, waiting for death, life is full of magic, from the golden horses that stampede underground to the tiny men who hammer away inside the stone walls. That the enchanted place is a death row matters less to him than the people he watches from the bars of his cage: the lady, an investigator hired to help the men escape execution; the fallen priest, brought by shame to work the row; and the kindly warden, who ushers men to death.
As the lady digs deep into the past of one of the men on the row, she finds secrets that ring chillingly familiar, and begins a journey that will bring all of them to unexpected salvation.
Guilt and innocence collide in this story of the beauty that can exist in the midst of despair. A luminous novel about redemption, the poetry that can be found in the unfathomable, and the human capacity to transcend even the most nightmarish reality, The Enchanted is a new classic.
“A striking one-of-a-kind prison novel...[with] rich, haunting prose....A stunning first novel from an already accomplished writer.” Publishers Weekly
“[An] impressive debut....Read this magical book, and prepare to be spellbound.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Rene Denfeld is a genius. In The Enchanted, she has imagined one of the grimmest settings in the world a dank and filthy death row in a corrupt prison and given us one of the most beautiful, heart-rending, and riveting novels I have ever read.” Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All The Time
“The Enchanted wrapped its beautiful and terrible fingers around me from the first page and refused to let go after the last. A wondrous book that finds transcendence in the most unlikely of places....So dark yet so exquisite.” Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
“The Enchanted is unlike anything I've ever read....Contagious and seductive. The reader comes to see through Denfeld's strange lens, and to savor the richness of the view long after the final page has turned.” Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love
“Evocative....Denfeld's humanizing of the potential for horror that is within all of us and her insistence that the reader see the beauty in the darkest corners of life sizzles through her sharp prose, which both makes us flinch and invites us to imagine.” Booklist
“The Enchanted explores the complexities of many crucial issues, including how we treat our children and the vulnerable and the consequences of our actions. It also makes us ask whether our personal behavior, social policies, and the justice system perpetuate more pain than otherwise for humanity.” New York Journal of Books
“If you enjoy mystery and suspense as well as a bit of magic and horror you will find it all here. The story is enthralling and keeps you reading far into the night.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“The Enchanted is instead a testament to the power of words, of language and symbols to reshape ones reality, and it is an extraordinarily empathetic look at the sorrows and joys of even the worst aspects of human life.” The Oregonian
About the Author
Rene Denfeld is an author, journalist, and death penalty investigator. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Oregonian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of four nonfiction books. The Enchanted received the Prix du Premier Roman Étranger in France.