- Book: Sanctuary
- Location: South Tyrol / Alto Adige
- Author: Luca D'Andrea
Herr Robert Wegener (with a Nazi family backstory) has a trophy wife Marlene but early in the novel she absconds with some of his very precious and hugely valuable sapphires. As she is weaving around the snow-bound mountain passes, her Mercedes crashes. She is picked up (literally) by mountain man Simon Keller and taken back to his isolated maso (farmhouse). There he tends to her injuries with a lot of drugs produced from poppy seeds. He also keeps pigs, in part as a tribute to his sister Lissy, who was killed by their abusive father. Yes, I didn’t quite understand that either, although there is something about pigs being very intelligent and some lore of the locale means Lissy is still close to him through another sentient being, which he can now protect – important as he couldn’t protect her from their father’s abusive nature. Living in remote mountain areas can often mean that a strange rhythm of life and some unusual belief systems tend to set in. These can differ significantly from those established in communities that live in more accessible towns and villages. This can lend a surreal and otherworldly feel to the narrative which is firmly set in inhospitable and oftentimes inaccessible mountainous terrain.
Herr Wegener (NEVER call him Robert) is a character who has robotic angry responses to many situations, although he masterfully tries to contain his labile and aggressive demeanour. Once he discovers the theft of his precious sapphires he is determined to find his wife as well as her assumed lover (the housekeeper overheard her mentioning Klaus on the telephone). But the Consortium, to whom the sapphires were to be delivered, has other ideas.
There is a menacing and fairytale element to the story, it certainly borrows from The Grimm Brothers’ stories, and in fact Marlene keeps a copy of their tales by her bed. Wegener knows she has left because this ‘lucky charm’ – her battered ancient copy of their stories – is also missing. The Kobolds, sprites from German mythology, are beavering away in the background too and add an eerie touch (they are there for atmosphere rather than any tangible part of the story). There is a veil of smoke and mirrors over the whole narrative.
The writing style is good. Other reviewers have suggested that the novel may suffer from an inferior translation but for me there are none of the ‘tells’ of a sub-standard interpretation. However, the story never really develops beyond first base and keeps circling back to its roots without growing and blossoming. There are a few deaths and murders along the way which shake things up a bit but the story soon reverts back to its default (and, dare I say, dull) setting. The characters hardly mature beyond their names and revolve through the pages without leaving much of an impression. Yes, I reluctantly say that they feel wooden. It is a book that seems to try overly hard to be something different and, to my mind, really doesn’t succeed.
The setting is claustrophobic, the mountains veiled in snow are beautifully brought to life. A trip down to the beautiful city of Merano, nestled just on the Italian side of the Austrian border in the South Tyrol provides a respite from the unremitting and mesmerising frozen scenes of the mountains. The South Tyrol is a beautiful part of the world where they speak German and have all the influence of Italy.