This book is grim. In both senses of the word.
Gingerbread is about a boy and his grandfather. They move to the forest. Their lives become more primal, less human as the boy stops going to school and the grandfather starts hunting for food. Grandfather suffers from terrible PTSD from his time in the Soviet gulag. He fails in his duty of care as the two run wild in the woods, with the book coming to a rather intense climax.
But this is not what the boy sees- the narrative is focalised through him and borrows heavily from the Brothers Grimm. The grandfather tells allegorical fairy tales of his time in the gulag and escape into the woods. The boy learns about his past and surroundings through bed time stories and family mythologies.
The stories get darker as his grandfather gets madder, and the boy looks for an escape out of the wilds. There is some dark, atmospheric and powerful writing, situating you right in the middle of a Belarusan forest amongst wolves, woodsmen, and abandoned cottages (somewhere I didn’t think I’d ever be).
But we do seem to wander around the woods for long stretches of the book without a huge amount happening. You get the point without the need to know about every bird killed for supper or journey to the marshes.
Clever ideas, spooky storytelling but, like our hero, we do get stuck in the trees for an awful long time.