Gretel on Her Own – Elna Holst

4.5⭐️ – Calling this novella a queer retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel is both true and inaccurate. Elna Holst takes the fairytale, breaks it apart and puts it back on with her very own twists, turning it into a completely different yet still familiar story. Whatever happened to Gretel and her brother as children, the whole family exploded and Gretel is still trying to pick up the pieces. The arrival of an uncannily and irresistibly sweet woman in the village will play havoc with her already chaotic life.

The fairytale the author drew inspiration from is all about sweets and sugar and temptation. To describe Gretel’s attraction to Dorothea, she chose from the lexical field of baking. In her previous novel, Pyotra and the Wolf, the emphasis was on the sense of smell. While very present in this novella too, it’s nevertheless transcended by the sense of taste. The use of such basic senses (in a not-so-basic way), senses everyone will relate to, adds a layer that makes the chemistry feel almost intoxicating.

The best thing about this novella is that for the longest time, Gretel and, alongside her, the reader have no idea what’s really going on. What’s true, what comes from her mother’s delusion, what is paranoia and what could be PTSD. It’s unsettling but, by some miracle (or the author’s talent), it never brings you down. It could be bleak and depressing and instead is riveting and exciting.

Elna Holst’s books make me feel smart, like she’s opening her quirky mind to the reader and sharing her cleverness and wit in more than just words.

5-stars

Gretel on Her Own @ NineStar Press

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