If the words “castle” and “Europe” send a certain readership running off for fear of inadvertently grabbing up a Gothic romance, than perhaps those words should be stricken from this book’s jacket. A bodice-ripper this is not. There is lust, and sex – and much more than you’d expect from the publisher’s brief description.
It all starts when Danny arrives at a strange castle in eastern Europe. The location is not quite certain, somewhere outside of Prague, and then even further away by train. Danny, a New Yorker, wears impractical velvet pants, and his “lucky” but slippery boots, as he tries to circumnavigate the dark old castle at his 2am arrival. The property is quite large, complete with a weird pool, and an imposing keep. As Danny learns, the keep is “a place where everyone holed up if the castle got invaded. Kind of a last stand. The stronghold.”
The impractical traveler (who has brought along his own satellite dish) has been invited by his cousin, Howard, to help renovate this place into a functioning hotel. Obstacles are plentiful: the condition of the crumbling castle, the stubborn Baroness who still lives in the keep, and the very reunion itself of the two cousins. Danny and Howard don’t have the most comfortable history, a chilling event from their shared past lingers still, hovering in Danny’s brain, threatening to become current news again.
Like her protagonists in The Keep, Jennifer Egan breaks rules as if they were dried spaghetti. Standard fiction components such as dialogue and plot sequence are unusual, to say the least. The dialogue style is – frankly – weird. Quotation marks are pretty much non-existent. Sometimes the spoken words appear all of a sudden in the middle of the text, and sometimes they are set apart, screenplay style. Disconcerting, yes. But it works – you still can’t stop turning the pages.
Egan also switches the point of view from third person, to first, back and forth, creating fiction vertigo. And the narrative is nervous — jumpy, even. Somehow though, the plot advances, and damn if you aren’t right in the story. All of a sudden though, you turn the page and you’re totally lost. Characters and conversations have appeared that are incongruous to the tale – until you catch on.