The Land Across

The cover of "The Land Across": a railway through rocky terrain, coloured red

There’s a lot going on. But then there’s always a lot going on in a Gene Wolfe book.

This was my first read of The Land Across, and it’s going to require addi­tion­al read-throughs for me to pick up on some of the puz­zles. But even on a sur­face lev­el, this book is very “all things to all people”.

Grafton, an Amer­i­can trav­el writer[1]Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?, trav­els to an unnamed coun­try in East­ern Europe, the land across the moun­tains, intend­ing to write the first trav­el book about the nation. Very quick­ly he becomes entan­gled in the local law, Kafkaesque bureau­cra­cy, and a con­spir­a­cy that grows to include a haunt­ed house, at least one love tri­an­gle, a buried trea­sure, and a Satan­ic cult. Strange fig­ures come and go[2]For exam­ple: was that Drac­u­la?, seem­ing­ly at ran­dom. Some of the ghost­ly events turn out to have mun­dane expla­na­tions; oth­ers are in fact ghosts.

To quote one of the police offi­cers in the first chapter:

All maps are wrong. If the [ene­mies] come, they will be lost.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Land Across

I’ve found a cou­ple reviews of this nov­el from 2013, when it was pub­lished: Char­lie Jane Anders wrote about it for io9, and Mordi­cai Knode’s review for sug­gests fur­ther reading—for instance, Flann O’Con­nor’s The Third Police­man.

I’ve also found this guide, full of spoil­ers, which I plan to use when I get to my sec­ond read of the nov­el. (This note is most­ly for me, but if it helps you out too, I’m glad.)


1 Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?
2 For exam­ple: was that Dracula?