3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
snows, forests, and darkness ...,
This review is from: Gingerbread (Hardcover)
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Set in the border country of Belarus, Dinsdale's novel takes its lead from this idea of edges and explores what happens when history blurs into fairy tale and when the wilderness creeps into civilisation. Gingerbread does this so well that it is not only the boy who is pulled in, but also the reader, and there is a point at which the snow and the trees and the stories infiltrate our perceptions to such an extent that we can almost imagine nothing beyond them.
Gingerbread begins with a boy making a promise to his dying mother about loving and caring for his grandfather (papa) "'forever and always'"; papa "'lived in terrible times'" but "'you're of him'" she tells the boy. When the boy reminds his papa of a promise made to scatter his mother's ashes in the forest, his papa is angry and reluctant, before finally relenting and agreeing to keep this promise. On the journey out to the forest the next day, the old man warns that it will be "bitter and cold before they are through." What follows is a descent into the forest and the wild, where stories interweave with reality, and the limits of even the most sacred of promises will be tested.
This is a dark read, which could have stumbled on into such a state of animalism as to be unbearable, but it doesn't. The arrival of a family brings both an increase in tension, and moments of welcome levity, in what is otherwise a claustrophobia-inducing novel. The family also provide a shocking contrast between the wilderness and civilisation, revealing how deeply the forest has permeated the boy and his papa. Dinsdale writes children well, and Elenya and the boy are compelling characters. So is papa, who undergoes a physical transformation that echoes the growing horror of his stories. It's difficult to say more without revealing too much.
I think this is a cunning novel, rich with allusions to fairytales but never beholden to them. My only complaint is that the finale--with all its pace--seemed too dramatic after the slow-building suspense that came before it. This is probably because I don't require a novel to be compulsively page-turning in the same way as a movie is action-packed, and I really enjoyed the writing and the creation of man and boy's descent into the wilderness.
Recommended for readers who don't mind being snowed in by a novel, or being snagged in forests that have witnessed the full darkness of human deeds.