I do love this book even though I didn’t love it for quite a while as I read it, for it is a sad book, a book about brutality and pain as it is experienced by so many in prison. Prison in fact is the lead metaphor of the story, never called hell but rather called the enchanted place. The lead characters are never named, the lady, the failed priest, the warden, the boy with white hair, and the unnamed narrator. It seems to me that these characters are on a journey to existing, to being human, a state which they have fallen from rather than one which they are aspiring to reach. What keeps them in a grey zone between being human, being persons, or as older philosophical writers might have put it, existing, and whatever totally non-existence must be, is guilt and despair, a despair that shields them from love. For some, the despair is overcome by a strong act of the will, a decision to murder or a decision to die. Sartre would have approved. But, is this the path to redemption? In the end those who risk giving and receiving love find at last their humanity.
I read this novel as part of the National Post’s Afterword Reading Society. In a written response I theoretically asked the author what place forgiveness has in such a story of redemption. To make a choice, even as powerful a choice as love, is life changing and truly self-authenticating. But people who have been pushed to the edge of what it means to be human need to extend love through forgiveness themselves in order to completely sever the bonds to the past. These two decisive decisions, to love and to forgive, go together, and the third is the decision to be forgiven by both others and God. These decisions bring a person to a personhood that lasts forever.
Thank you Rene Denfeld for giving us a book that speaks of the horror of prisons, of despair, and of the hope that despair can be transcended by anyone.
The Enchanted, A Novel by Rene Denfeld, Harper, 2014.