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 writerWell, 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 goFor 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 Tor.com 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.)