Hell’s Gate by Laurent Gaudé

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I always enjoy reading foreign novels. By this, I am referring to novels that are not in the English language. It’s interesting to see how the author’s culture and background influence the writing style and approach to the story they are creating. My only wish would be to be able to read the work in its original format, rather than as a translation. With this novel, I was interested to see how the author would take the concept of death and make it unique.

When Matteo’s son gets killed by gangsters in a crossfire as he makes his way to school, life seems to end for Matteo and his wife. Consumed by grief and despair, Matteo’s wife, Guiliana, asks him to either bring back their son or take revenge on the man who killed him. But when the moment for vengeance occurs, Matteo finds himself unable to commit the final deed. This disappointment becomes too much to bear and Guiliana leaves. It is during this time that Matteo makes the acquaintance of a mysterious priest who claims to know the way to the underworld and is willing to take him there. But the journey to the land of the dead is a dangerous one and may be more than Matteo bargained for.

This was an intriguing concept of vengeance, death, and grief. The author did such an amazing job portraying the complexity of grief and death, so much so that you can feel and understand the pain and suffering felt by Matteo and Guiliana. You can understand the decisions they make, the various stages of grief that they go through, and the ways in which they struggle to hold onto their lives even as life loses all meaning for them. It was powerful in that way, even though the reader never feels a true connection to any character. I would be hard-pressed to believe that any reader would be able to form a strong bond with the characters in this book, especially based on the storytelling style employed here. Usually, I consider this a negative, but in the case of this novel, it worked. It made the descent into the Underworld the focal point, and added a level of intrigue that may not have been possible if the reader was more focused on the character than the plot. This novel is guaranteed to take you on a unique journey that is thought-provoking and will stay with you long after you finish reading.

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