Skip to main content

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Personally, The Enchanted is unlike any other story I have ever read. The cover of the novel is enthralling: Three golden horses gallop freely out of what seems like prison bars. But as the author sheepishly pointed out during the launch of her novel in Toronto, "This is not a story about horses."

It is also not a story of magical places (well, not the Enid Blyton kind of magical world that if you are like me imagines). Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted is a story of something much darker: Death row.

The narrator is someone on death row. We don’t know his name, or a lot about his back-story. He is more of an observer and he paints for us a somewhat magical world of life inside the prison walls of the dark dungeons. His beautiful prose about the horrid circumstances is a credit to author’s view on the world – that amidst all the darkness and despair, hope prevails.

“This is an enchanted place. Others don't see it but I do.”
“The most wonderful enchanted things happen here - the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.”
As the narrator observes the comings and goings inside the prison walls, his focus revolves around a few key characters. “The lady” is the death row investigator who is brought in to save a fellow named York. The interesting thing is that despite York’s wishes to face death row, she is working tirelessly to get him off.
“York knows the truth doesn’t matter in here. Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grow into their shadows.”
If you meet Rene Denfeld and hear her story, it is not a huge stretch to see the similarities between “the lady” and herself – one of a death row investigator whose clients are death row inmates.

At times, when you realize that the inmates have committed horrendous crimes, the story can be hard to chew. But “the lady” always believes that there is another side to every story. Slowly she is willing to arrest her life to be taken over by the death penalty investigation – a labour-intensive process that can take months to locate ancient records, track down witnesses and diagnose the truth of a crime.

The narrator’s own story arc is something that Rene Denfeld lets us keep guessing throughout the book. The reader assumes that either he must have committed a heinous act or is being held wrongly in a prison for something he didn’t do. But he draws us in with his poetic observations and we start to also see the refreshing way he sees life. And despite what the dungeons may really be like, what we do know is that he is happy to be in this enchanted place.
“I was glad when the warden led me to the dungeon. I was glad when he opened the cell door himself and I stepped inside, knowing I would never leave again until the last journey. By that time I had realized others could see monsters coiled under my skin, see the screaming fear. They could see the wet mattress and splayed legs and all that has come before and could come again.”

It is interesting that Rene Denfeld very rarely refers to her characters by their actual names. The warden, is simply, “the warden”, the death penalty investigator is “the lady”, and the narrator doesn’t really have a name. It almost feels like this is intentional. Perhaps just like the outside world has forgotten the nameless, faceless inmates who are on death row, The Enchanted reminds us that these people and the others that touch their lives, continue to live in anonymity. And as a result of this hauntingly, and beautifully told story, Rene Denfeld has managed to give them a face and a voice hitherto forgotten in the depths of shadows and darkness.

The Enchanted is published by HarperCollins Publishing

4.5 out of 5 Sukasa Stars

Review by @ShilpaRaikar for @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle)