Dark Enchantment: A wonderful story in the French fairytale tradition
Book review: Dorothy Macardle counterposed rationality with superstition, black magic and with white magic and religion with science
Dorothy Macardle: her characters are shown worn down or badly affected by events – pushed to extreme places – some to return to happiness, others not:
This is a novel in the French fairytale tradition. Its heroine is Juliet (20), an innocent embodiment of “goodness”. She is to some extent the orphan figure – her mother has left her and her father, Frith, is an often-absent actor with an unreliable income.
Throughout the book she has to take on responsibilites for the adults. Its fairytale-like setting is the fictional village of St Jacques, high in the Alps, near to the woods. It starts picture postcard perfect but gradually sinister energies are unleashed.
It is also a love story (she meets her prince, Michael) but it is so grounded in real life that it feels like a unique exploration of the currents of life and living. There is the rational counterposed with superstition, there is black magic and white magic, there is religion and science, luck and the law.
Constantly characters are shown worn down or badly affected by events – pushed to extreme places – some to return to happiness, others not. Life is a challenge and can be scary. Written in 1953, the ghost of Occupied France permeates.
The developments of all characters are psychologically nuanced. What is remarkable is that no one point of view trumps another – they all have equal valency. Even Terka, the “witch”, has a surprising back story that evokes sympathy. Good guys like Frith and Rene have darker sides revealed.
Much of Juliet’s vulnerability is because of her financial situation. This economic underpinning of life is a seam running through the book and how one, particularly a woman, might make their way.
Falling in love and getting married to the goodly Michael provides a happy ending. Yet it is Michael’s mother, the independent Alison, who, as stepmother/fairy godmother, provides a heartwarming sanctuary for Juliet.
In the beginning Juliet arrives on a bus with Frith, but at the end leaves with Michael and Alison, who is driving “over the hills, her eyes on the road, easy hands on the wheel, in the clear warm light of the autumn day”.
It is the beginning of a new journey yet the hills suggest the ups and downs of fate unfolding. A wonderful story, wonderfully written.