The Enchanted relates the story of a death row inmate and the details of prison life that he observes. The main players are unnamed and only referred to as “The Lady” and “The Priest.” This contributes to the hazy tone established early on by the narrator, which is ideal for someone with a perception blurred by countless years of incarceration. In spite of the intriguing atmosphere and the lulling quality of Denfeld’s writing, however, I can’t help but feel that I entirely missed the point of this novel.
According to our unnamed narrator, the ancient prison is “enchanted,” and he often sees fantastical creatures, particularly during times of death. It is not entirely evident if anyone else at the prison sees these spectres, which is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. We know that our narrator is troubled, as he has hinted towards his horrendous crimes and his own mental instability – he is unreliable at best. The entire story is filtered through him, and he leaves out some important details until the very end of the novel, bringing much of his narration into question.
I like unreliable narrators, that’s really not the issue for me. I am struggling with the underlying point of The Enchanted. The Lady tries to help the hopeless get off of death row; The Priest struggles with his lapsed faith; the narrator just wants to read and be left alone. Then there is the presence of these somewhat supernatural elements that, in spite of being beautifully described, don’t seem to contribute anything to the plot. Horses run through the prison when someone is executed. Other people seem to see this, and no one considers it out of the ordinary. Or is anyone seeing it at all, since this is all based solely on the narrator’s claims?
Amazon draws attention to the similarities between The Enchanted and Stephen King. I think they are going for the obvious parallel between prison novels with supernatural happenings, but Denfeld also tries to elicit sympathy for her murderers in a way that can’t quite live up to King’s prowess in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. She does a serviceable job, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t feel anything when her characters were executed – I sobbed when John Coffey died.
Asides from her gripping writing style, Denfeld’s debut novel doesn’t contribute much by way of innovative material. This is all territory that has been crossed before, and while her descriptions are quite poetic, her story is just mehh.