Egan's third novel is a chilling modern-gothic story set in Manhattan and Europe. The story's narrator, a convict named Ray, is spinning the tale for his prison creative writing class, in hopes of getting close to his teacher. The story he conjures up centers on Danny and Howard, cousins who come together in Eastern Europe at a medieval castle they've agreed to renovate. At the castle, they leave the trappings of civilization behind: There's no cell phone service, no TV and the roads in are nearly impassable. Free from the cares of the everyday world, the cousins have strange experiences. Danny encounters a beautiful baroness on the property, but he's uncertain if she really exists. His attempts to set up a satellite in order to connect with the outside world are foiled when the dish goes missing. As it turns out, Danny and Howard were both the victims of a childhood prank, an incident that has never been forgotten, and their reunion brings back old memories, leading to a showdown of sorts that nearly destroys them both. Taut and original, this spellbinding novel is a formidable addition to Egan's growing body of work, which includes the best-selling novel, Look At Me.
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Kirkus Reviews 2006 April #2
Two cousins linked by a shameful secret, a convicted murderer and a reformed meth freak are unlikely co-conspirators in this adventurous new novel by Egan (Look at Me, 2001, etc.). Aging party boy Danny is uneasy at the castle recently purchased by his cousin Howie in a remote area of central Europe. True, a "misunderstanding" with some very tough customers made it imperative to get out of New York City, and his cousin sent him a ticket. But has Howie really forgiven Danny for abandoning him in an underground cave when they were teenagers, a trauma that led him to drugs and crime? Well, maybe, since Howie eventually became a bond trader rich enough to retire at 34 and dream of turning the castle into a unique kind of hotel. "Let people be tourists of their own imaginations," he says, explaining that the castle will be free of all electronic distractions. Danny, who panics without his cell phone and Internet connection, is incredulous; when Howie says, "Imagination! It saved my life," his guilty cousin is sure he's making reference to that fateful day in the cave. No sooner are we immersed in this intriguing setup than the author pulls back to reveal that it's the creation of Ray, who's taking a writing course to kill time in jail. This storytelling strategy is hard to pull off, since one tale is almost always more interesting than the other, but Egan's characterizations and plotting are so strong that we're eager to find out where both sets of protagonists are heading even before it becomes clear that Ray is describing something that actually happened to him. As the focus shifts once again, this time to Ray's teacher Holly, all the narrative strands come together to underscore the theme Egan movingly delineates throughout: the power of art to transform even the most twisted and hopeless lives. There are a few slow spots, and the beautiful prose doesn't entirely disguise how wildly improbable the novel's events are, but the characters' emotions are so real, the author's insights so moving, that readers will be happy to be swept away.Intelligent, challenging and exciting.First printing of 100,000 Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2006 April #1
Egan follows up Look at Me, a National Book Award finalist, with the story of slacker Danny, who finds himself in Central Europe helping to renovate a medieval castle for now-rich cousin Howard. Alas, a nasty prank he played on Howard as a child comes back to haunt him spectacularly. With a 100,000-copy first printing; an eight-city tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2006 April #2
Egan's first work after National Book Award finalist Look at Me relates the story of aimless Danny, whose only talent is being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. He's so intent on maintaining this sense of supreme cool--which he calls alto--that he drags a satellite dish all the way to central Europe, where rich cousin Howie has bought a castle he plans to turn into a hotel. Howie is looking for a little alto of his own and wants Danny's help, never mind the ancient baroness hanging on heartlessly in the castle's keep. Soon, echoes of the past set Danny's head spinning, and he thinks Howie is out to revenge a nasty childhood prank. The histories of other people get layered in as well: there's Ray, who's writing Danny's story from a jail cell and whose connection to the events emerges slowly, and Holly, the prison writing instructor with a past. Their stories enhance Danny's, but they're not as developed and don't fit in so smoothly, somewhat roughing up the narrative arc toward the end. Yet the novel can be recommended for most collections as an engrossing narrative told in prose that's remarkably fresh and inventive. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/06.]--Barbara Hoffert,Library Journal[Page 65]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Claustrophobic paranoia, intentionally mediocre writing and a transparent gimmick dominate Egan's follow-up to Look at Me , centered on estranged cousins who reunite in Eastern Europe. Danny, a 36-year-old New York hipster who wears brown lipstick (and whose body can detect Wi-Fi availability), accepts his wealthy cousin Howard's invitation to come to Eastern Europe and help fix up the castle Howard plans on turning into a luxury Luddite hotel (check your cell at the door). In doing so, Danny can't help recalling the childhood prank he played on a young Howie that left the awkward adolescent nearly dead--or so writes Ray, the druggie inmate who's penning this novel-within-a-novel for his prison writing workshop. Subsequent chapters alternate between Danny's fantastical castle travails (it's home to a caustic baroness bent on preserving her family seat) and Ray's prison drama. There are funny asides and trappings (particularly digital technology) along the way, and the sendup of castle narratives generates some chuckles. But the connection between the two narratives, which Egan reveals in intentionally tawdry fashion, feels telegraphed from the first chapter, making for a frustrating read. (Aug.)[Page 34]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.