My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Prisoner of Night and Fog is set in extraordinary, awful times. It’s 1930s Munich and Gretchen Müller has grown up under the protection of her Uncle ‘Dolf’. ‘Dolf’ is Adolf Hitler and Gretchen is his beloved pet. The daughter of a Nazi martyr, Gretchen has been bought up in the parties ideology. Yet one day she meets a Jewish reporter, Daniel Cohen, who tells her that her father was not martyred. He was murdered – by somebody in the party. Together, Gretchen and Daniel set out to discover just what happened to her father….
It’s the story that got me with this. There’s something incredible here, but I don’t think Prisoner of Night and Fog quite manages to follow through on the vivid, awful truth. Though several characters are identified as fictional, many aren’t and Gretchen comes into contact with a wide range of actual people. Hitler. Rohm. Eva Braun. Angela “Geli” Raubal. It’s a vivid context and one that should make a young adult novel burn. I’m not sure that this one does that. There’s a lot of running from one plot point to another, which becomes oddly repetitive, and Gretchen herself is somewhat toneless.
Sometimes I recommend novels more for the context of what they deal with. I do think Prisoner of Night and Fog is worth a read because the setting and the historical narrative is fascinating. I suspect in a way that it might have worked better were the novel itself less safe. That’s an odd thing to say in the context, and bear with me for a second whilst I explain it.
Let’s say ‘A girl sits down at the table, eats her lunch and gets up again’.
Now, let’s say something like: ‘A girl sits down at the table, eats her lunch, and then the table eats her.’
It’s a farcical example but I’m trying to make the point that sometimes a narrative needs to startle and snap when you least expect it. And when it doesn’t, and when I’m longing for it to be brave and reckless and unpredictable and it doesn’t – then I end up feeling somewhat disappointed. There’s a big story here and it’s one that would sing in young adult work; Prisoner of Night and Fog makes a good attempt at telling that story, but doesn’t quite succeed.