The Storyteller, by Antonia Michaelis
I don't really know where to start with this one.
Maybe with what I tweeted right after finishing it?:
The Storyteller begins with a bang:
There is blood everywhere. On his hands, on her hands, on his shirt, on his face, on the tiles, on the small round carpet. The carpet used to be blue; it will never be blue again.
And then, the prologue is over, and suddenly, The Storyteller becomes a story about seventeen-year-old Anna, a well-off, sheltered, sweet girl who knows that there has to be more to life than she's seen or experienced, and Abel, a boy at school who sleeps through all of his classes (when he's there) and is known by all of the other students as the "Polish Peddler" because he's a drug dealer.
Due to random chance—or is it fate?—Anna discovers that there's a lot more to Abel than anyone assumes. Despite their differences, they're drawn to each other—Anna to Abel by his storytelling, and Abel to Anna because she's Anna—but, as the narrator forewarns, it isn't going to be a happy ending:
The fairy tale into which Anna fell was as bright and magical as the moment in which he'd spun Micha in his arms. But beneath his words, Anna sensed the darkness that lurked in the shadows, the ancient darkness of fairy tales.
Only later, much later, and too late, would Anna understand that this fairy tale was a deadly one.
I chose to disregard the narrator's warning. And so, I found myself utterly gutted at the end. I'm not completely at fault, as I think that Michaelis was going for that effect: the story switches gears so quickly from the confusing, violent, visceral prologue to Anna's muffled existence that I completely forgot about the first few pages until I sat down to write this.
Completely forgot. I'm not exaggerating.
That made me realize just how enthralled I was by this book—as I read, I was so involved in the here-and-now of the story that I never stopped to think about where it was going (or, really, what had gone on before it began). Which floors me, as I really, truly thought that I'd never be taken in by Ye Olde Prologue That Says A Whole Lot More Than It's Saying But You Don't Realize That Until It's Far, Far To Late, And Now You're Blubbering All Over Yourself During Your Lunchbreak routine.
Okay. Short version? Read this book. It's beautifully written—and the translator should get an award, because, WOW—it's layered and beautifully crafted, the prose is gorgeous, Leonard Cohen's lyrics are a perfect fit, and the story is dark and tragic and devastating (I wasn't joking about blubbering at work) and it made me want to crawl under my desk until it was time to go home. In a good way.
Especially read this book if you dig the heavy-duty old-school darkness of fairy tales. Because the storyline takes some turns that... well, they're upsetting. About halfway through, I'd decided that it felt like a cross between David Almond and Kevin Brooks. Which is pretty dark already, and that was before I was blindsided by the first of the seriously shocking turns*. After that, I didn't think about anything but the characters I was reading about. I only had enough space in my head and heart for Anna and Abel and Micha. Everything else was white noise.
This would be a fabulous book for a discussion—because, wow, it's outstandingly rich on every level and chock-full of stuff to talk about—possibly paired with something like Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels.
*SPOILER OH MY GOD HUGE SPOILER SERIOUSLY DON'T READ THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT A SPOILER: Um, yeah. There's a rape scene, and it sucks. Not the writing, of course—the writing is fabulous throughout—but the before and the during and the aftermath and everything about it is bound to throw some people for a serious loop. It did me, at any rate. END MASSIVE SPOILER.