Castle isn’t for everyone. I, for one, have mixed feelings about it. J. Robert Lennon knows how to stretch out suspense. Castle is perfectly paced psychological thr… well, it’s not exactly a thriller. It’s more of a mystery/horror/suspense novel – with well-timed reveals and a narrative voice as creepy as they come. Those are its strengths. Its weaknesses are harder to define.
I should probably warn you here that Castle contains violence and torture. Animals and children suffer. Much of the plot is hard to stomach.
Tangent: Am I the only one who cringes when an author introduces an animal into a storyline???! Why does it never, ever end well? Old Yeller, The Red Pony, The Horse Whisperer, that frightened dog in Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger… and those are just off the top of my head. Don’t get me started on films (that wolf in Dances with Wolves – being in the title didn’t save him). It’s a cliché, a cheap emotional trigger and a particular pet peeve of mine. *end rant here*
It’s obvious in the first hour (this is an audiobook) that something isn’t right with Eric Loesch – the narrator and protagonist of Castle. There’s more going on than he’s revealing, to us or to himself. There are suspicious gaps in his memory and the coincidences keep piling up. Eric is not withholding information so much as he is not remembering it. He’s disassociated from the people around him. He has no emotional ties and flies off the handle with little or no provocation. You might say he’s a few cards short of a deck, but’s hard to tell. He appears so out of touch with events, his perception of the world so askew, that you question everything you’ve read. It’s an effective use of an unreliable narrator, – keeping readers off-balance and unsure.
Little by little Lennon teases out his hero’s history. We learn that Eric has returned to his boyhood home after a long absence; about his relationship to his sister and the history of his family; his connection to the abandoned house which he is methodically restoring; eventually, we’ll watch as he unravels the mystery of the large, black rock at the center of his property. And, unfortunately, that’s all I can tell you. The worst thing is to give too much of the plot away. This book becomes so uncomfortable in parts that the only reason I continued listening was to find out what the hell was going on.
But is that enough? While I appreciate what the author has accomplished in this novel – the pacing, the suspense, the overall creepiness – I was ultimately disappointed with the resolution. I suppose that’s a hazard of the genre. The greater the build-up, the greater the chance of falling short of the reader’s expectations. Again, I don’t want to give too much away. It’s enough to say that Lennon introduces a plot point in the last few chapters, after all the reveals and explanations have happened, that was just too contrived for me. Inexplicably, he downplays the psychology of the events he chooses to discuss and goes with what is ultimately the easy answer. The answer which we’d all like to accept, but which I feel does a disservice to those who were involved.
Have I piqued your interest? No doubt it’s an interesting book. One that inspires strong emotions. Lori from TNBBC & I have been listening to the Iambik.com audiobook together and talking about it non-stop. And there’s definitely a lot to talk about. Neither of us is a huge fan of the narrator/reader. I recognized Mark Douglas Nelson from other Iambik recordings. He has a distinctive voice that requires the right text – and the verdict is out as to whether this was it. I think Eric is supposed to be in his late 30’s, early 40’s – the narrator is clearly a much older man. This didn’t bother me so much, but it makes it difficult to pinpoint Eric’s age (something I’m still not certain of). Knowing his age is not a critical element to understanding the story, but it was a distraction.
Part of me wonders if Castle might have been better read than listened to. The former would have allowed me to skim through the uncomfortable bits and create my own narrative voice. It’s something for potential readers (or listeners) to keep in mind before picking up (or downloading) this novel. The eternal question of which is better: to read or to be read to? This time I’m going with “to read”.
Publisher: Graywolf Press, Minneapolis & Iambik Audiobooks, Montreal (2010)
Audiobook ISBN: 978 1 9266 7301 1
Print ISBN: 978 1 5559 7559 3