Sunday, 25 May 2014 | MYT 12:00 AM

The Enchanted

  • Author : Rene Denfeld
  • Genre : Fiction
  • Publisher : HarperCollins


An alarmingly beautiful book

Reading frees a man who is locked up physically and emotionally.

SOMETIMES, you’ve just got to judge a book by its cover. And a cover that features golden horses racing out from behind steel bars is not something you’d want to miss.

The title gives everything and nothing away. What could it be? Some magical place where elves and fairies reside? Or is it just another story book with a typical happily-ever-after ending?

Turns out it is a magical place, after all. A place where molten horses race, where little men with hammers reside within stone walls, where flibber-gibbets wait for their next warm meal from the oven. Sounds like a fantasy – only this story is set in a maximum security prison.

In a place of Stygian darkness, a nameless inmate is awaiting his end on death row. We do not know what his crime was, only that he is mute, or perhaps chooses to be so. Only in reading books from the prison library does he find the freedom his reality denies him. It is beautiful, fascinating even, how, in his four by nine windowless cell, his imagination takes him, and us, on an enchanted voyage that draws us fully into his world.

The inmate believes the prison is a shelter, an escape from the sinister world beyond the prison walls. But while the prison may be a sanctuary to him, it is a living hell to The Priest. He is a fallen angel with clipped wings, his hollow eyes reflecting his belief that he is beyond all redemption. We come to understand why he decided to serve as a death row priest – not a job most would willingly undertake.

The warden of the prison has the gargantuan task of policing 3,000 prisoners. A fair and just man within a cruel system, he believes in the death row – rapists who kill, serial killers and baby killers should be sentenced to death, he feels.

Which is why he cannot come to terms with what The Lady does. A mitigation officer, she plumbs the background of her clients to get them off death row and serving a life sentence instead. Her dysfunctional upbringing makes her connect with the damaged men she works for, and she knows that the person behind bars could easily have been her is she had ever stopped pretending that everything will be peachy at the end.

As she digs deeper into the case of an inmate who wants to die, York, she recalls her sordid past, one that is similar to his. York, unlike all the other inmates on death row, wants to die. He wants to be free, of the prison, of life, and all the shackles that are anchoring him down, physically and metaphorically.

Rene Denfeld takes us on an electrifying ride filled with wonder and enchantment, yet the ugly truth is still noticeable behind the beautifully-woven gossamer gown. We pick up bits and pieces abut what goes on behind prison bars – sodomy, rape, murder, corruption. We take in the Machiavellian operations, where hierarchy plays a bold part.

And yet, between takes on heinous crimes and unnerving behaviours, Denfeld bestows us with a flicker of hope. We traverse from a place where walls sigh with sadness to a place where emerald lakes and soft fluffy clouds are so spellbinding we cannot help but long to be there for real.

Words cannot describe how alarmingly beautiful The Enchanted is. The characters, especially, are given a life so unlike any others I have come across.

In a murky world, we are offered the soliloquy of the inmate who sees and hears all, with the beauty of words accessible only in his head (and ours, of course). We trail in the footsteps of the Lady, weeping for her harrowing past, and then salute her for her strength. We despair at the prison system, yet even in the darkest of places, love is not lost.

One of the best books I’ve come across in years, The Enchanted is not to be missed by anyone.

Tags / Keywords: book review , the enchanted


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