In the depths of winter in the land of Belarus, where ancient forests straddle modern country borders, an orphaned boy and his grandfather go to scatter his mother’s ashes in the woodlands. Her last request to rest where she grew up will be fulfilled.
Frightening though it is to leave the city, the boy knows he must keep his promise to mama: to stay by and protect his grandfather, whatever happens. Her last potent gifts – a little wooden horse, and hunks of her homemade gingerbread – give him vigour. And grandfather’s magical stories help push the harsh world away.
But the driving snow, which masks the tracks of forest life, also hides a frozen history of long-buried secrets. And as man and boy travel deeper among the trees, grandfather’s tales begin to interweave with the shocking reality of his own past, until soon the boy’s unbreakable promise to mama is tested in unimaginable ways.
Author: Robert Dinsdale
Publisher: The Borough Press
Have you ever finished a book and sat around for days trying to decide whether you loved it or not? This is how I feel about Gingerbread. Even as I write this review I can’t decide how I feel about it. I’m not even sure how to go about reviewing it – probably a first for this blog.
The entwining of the Grimm’s Fairy tales into the folklore of the ancient forests of Belarus is beautifully done. In fact, I would put Dinsdale’s writing style as one of my favourite things about the novel; it is powerful, disquieting, emotive and intelligent. In one word, it is unique.
I also loved the relationship between the Boy and his grandfather. We see it develop from their first meeting all the way through the story (it’s unbelievably hard not to put in spoilers here!) to the very end of the book. Whatever happens, the love is there – as is the promise each has made to the Boy’s mother.
Thinking about it, there were only two things that I found irksome.
(Digression: I love the word ‘irksome’).
Firstly, I couldn’t understand why the Boy was consistently referred to as the ‘Boy’ until two-thirds of the way in, where suddenly his name pops up. Secondly, I found the run up to the ending to be hurried and unconvincing. The majority of the novel is relatively slow-paced; then suddenly it all breaks down and, in a few short chapters, we’re back to Dinsdale’s great writing and a lovely conclusion.
Overall, the good definitely outweighs the bad; Gingerbread is a unique rendition of the fairy tales we know and love. But I can’t help but knock off a star for each of the points above. Sorry!