Review: The Land Across

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The Land Across

By Gene Wolfe, Read by Jeff Woodman
Length: 10 hours, 56 minutes

Toward the end of Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across, travel-writer Grafton tells his foreign secret police comrade that he doesn’t have anything to tell her, but thinks: “Really, there was a lot [to tell], but I had decided not to tell all that. I figured it out last night, and this morning…I didn’t know how to say it.” Well, I have to admit, I haven’t figured it all out, and I’d be lying if I thought I did, but I sure enjoyed scratching the surface, even if it did make me feel like the secret police agent being kept in the dark by her partner. This is probably pretty standard for Wolfe books – he’s an author who is notorious for his subtle writing.

The Land Across follows Grafton as he travels to a mysterious land where about which no travel books have been written. It is not a travelogue, though – Grafton is quickly abducted by border guards and put under house arrest once he arrives. Soon, he’s hired to investigate a haunted house, press-ganged into a cult, arrested again, and is press-ganged as agent for the country’s secret police. There are suggestions of vampirism, life size voodoo dolls, magic, and the creepiest, funniest, coolest severed hand I’ve had the pleasure of reading about.

If that sounds weird and complicated, well, it is. This is a Gene Wolfe book, after all. If it sounds like a book spinning out of control…I’m guessing you haven’t read much of Gene Wolfe’s stuff before. He’s a master writer, and no matter how bizarre things get, he uses strong, crisp prose that is easy to listen to, subtly layered, and you just go with it.

I don’t usually consider Wolfe’s writing to be full of humor – maybe that’s because up until now, I’d always read his books first. But the casual way Jeff Woodman narrated this book made the all the ridiculous situations brim over with humor. When he reads a line like “It doesn’t seem like corpse fat would make very good candles,” I couldn’t help but blink, and then cackle. Also, pretty much all of Grafton’s relationships with nearly every female character. And much of that is down to Woodman, who you can’t help but want to love.

There is a decided lack of Gene Wolfe audiobooks, and that’s a real shame. Wolfe is a master of speculative fiction – he’s regarded by Neil Gaiman as “the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today.” We only have five of his novels in audio, and hopefully, we’ll see many, many more from Audible/Audible Frontiers soon.

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