‘Who rides so late tonight through night and wind?’ – Goethe
Why, it’s the Erlkönig, the Erlking, the symbol of death and the loss of innocence.
In September 2019 François Villemin, a lecturer at Tours University presents a case known as ‘Sandrine’s Refuge’ to his students. We all use refuges, hiding a hurt behind a forced smile, reading, listening to music or day dreaming but Sandrine’s refuge is deep, as deep as the Mariana Trench, forcing her to abandon reality and it is a very necessary refuge.
Zut alors. This is an incredible book, it has taken my breath away in its complexity. It’s an enigma, a huge impenetrable puzzle where there are so many alternate realities. This book defines twisty. It’s like a maze you navigate to try to find your way out but you keep reaching dead ends. The layering in the storytelling resembles Russian dolls or to keep the Russian analogy going like layers of an onion such as on the Kremlin. I don’t want to give much away in this review because it’s one of those books you have to go into blind and without preconceptions. However, the Erlking, water, islands, clocks, cats, shoes and many other images combine to create a story of incredible power. Throughout the narrative there are some powerful images and emotional references to Nazism and this serves to demonstrate the magnitude of the story. It’s a dark black tale and people become prisoners to it but their ghostly presences haunts the pages. It’s chilling, the stuff of nightmares you don’t want to dream never mind live. There are fearful secrets despairingly locked in the mind that are shocking and horrifying you almost want to disconnect and seek your own refuge from the reality of it yet at the same time you want to play detective. What is Sandrine’s truth? Where does it lie? You try to work it out and guess what? I’m wrong, every time.
This is one of the cleverest, most powerful, most enigmatic books I’ve read in a long time. It’s not easy, the themes are dark and leave a bitter taste as you shudder and weep but this is a novel I will never forget. Incroyable.
Ps. Superb translation too.
With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Hodder and Stoughton for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.