After her parents die in a car accident, physicist Ruth Schwarz sets off for their hometown of Greater Einland to begin preparations for their funeral. But Greater Einland is a stubborn sort of place, determined to remain hidden from outsiders, with even Austrian officials denying all knowledge of the place.
But Ruth is stubborn too – or perhaps just lucky – and when she eventually stumbles into town, she discovers Greater Einland sits atop a vast cavern. One that not only exudes a strange sort of power over the villagers, but is also in danger of swallowing the entire town itself.
Roped in by the Countess that oversees the community to solve the cavern’s mysteries and secure the town, Ruth discovers that there’s more to the problems of Greater Einland than a dangerous sinkhole. A greater horror might yet be revealed by past trauma, tragedy, and repressed memory; and stabilising Greater Einland might be as much an abstract, emotional challenge as a physical one.
Written by Vienna-based author Raphaela Edelbaur, and translated into English from the original German by Jen Calleja, The Liquid Land is a dark and deliciously unique novel.
There’s a slightly florid tone to the writing that might alienate some readers, but as a fan of classic literature and someone who loves a good run-on sentence (as always, apologies to my editor), I absolutely ate it up. It’s clear, too, that it’s a distinctive choice by Edelbaur; the almost unnecessarily flowery writing adding to the uneasy sense that Greater Einland’s charming local character might be little more than a façade.
And what a façade it is! As Ruth’s few days there turn to weeks, tantalising hints about Greater Einland’s past, and the secrets the townsfolk and the sinkhole hold are revealed. It’s a truly compelling mystery, enhanced further as Ruth finds that despite what she thought she knew about her deceased parents, it seems their ties to Greater Einland ran deeper than she ever knew.
But as easy as it is to swept up all of that – and wouldn’t that be appropriate, given the surface level charm of Greater Einland? – Edelbaur doesn’t want The Liquid Land to stop there. The European location and the Second World War past of the town cannot be ignored, and the novel functions beautifully as a fable of sorts. It’s a warning against the dangers of choosing the comfortable silence and the delicate lie over the uncomfortable, and often violent, truth. A reckoning with the past must occur if Greater Einland is to survive, if, indeed, it even deserves to.
An uncanny page-turner, The Liquid Land pits family drama and an eerie almost Hot Fuzz-like town against darker presences – whether physical, emotional, or historical. The end result is an engaging and thought-provoking piece of contemporary fiction.