What a wild ride. Gothic mysticism is the best way to describe it, I guess. Although I was unfamiliar with the French writer, he had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times, so there’s that.
The book opens in a straightforward way with a pleasant young man being summoned to the estate of his recently deceased great-uncle. He is dropped off by carriage in a desolate expanse of fields and wetlands where he is met by a taciturn shepherd sent to escort him to his uncle’s former residence. Instead of the foreboding manor house though, it is a simple one room residence on an island in the middle of the Rhone River. (The manor house is on the other side of the river. We don’t get there until later.) In short order, his uncle’s executor, the wonderfully named Dromiols, and his accomplice, Uncle Rat, arrive to lay out the terms of his uncle’s will. A vast estate, including this island and all the surrounding area, is to be his provided that he live in the hut, with only the shepherd to provide for him, for three months alone. If he leaves for any reason, it all falls into Dromiols’ hands. And he didn’t even think to bring a book. Also there is one other little thing, but he’s got to do this first.
Sounds basic Gothic setup, right? But it so is not. There are storms beyond belief, and hallucinations, and out-of-body experiences galore. As a matter of fact, once he started to write so vividly about the river, it finally dawned on me that this is an actual place, and I checked it out. It is the Camargue region of France where the Rhone comes down from the Alps into the Mediterranean, and is still just as empty and wild today. Wild horses? Flamingos? I had NO idea.
So good. Just let it wash over you.