A darkly obsessive novel about a girl training as a fencer on the eve of the Second World War.
When Janna is sent from her Dutch home to Aachen, in Germany, all she knows about Egon von Bötticher, the man she’ll live with, is that her father knew him during the war. That would have been World War I. It’s now 1936, and Janna, who shows real talent in fencing, goes to von Bötticher to be trained. She finds him, an isolated, mysterious man with a disfiguring scar across his face, in a large, mysterious house with two disgruntled servants. Then a pair of identical twins arrive, boys near Janna’s age. Inevitably, 18-year-old Janna finds herself in love with von Bötticher. In any case, she imagines that she is. Soon she’s visiting his bed and, after he falls asleep, rifling his drawers. She finds a cache of letters to von Bötticher from her father, Jacques, and yet another cache of letters that von Bötticher addressed to Jacques but never sent. At first, Janna thinks the letters will reveal what happened between von Bötticher and her father, what happened to von Bötticher during the war. But the truth only seems to grow more convoluted, and clarity is nowhere in sight. That’s the point—or part of it, anyway—but the result can be frustrating. De Moor’s novel has darkly gothic overtones, reminiscent in places of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and while that dark mood can be seductive, it isn’t strong enough to carry the entire novel. Von Bötticher never coheres as a character, and there are so many dreamy moments that a few more straightforward touchstones would have been helpful. The true horror seems not to be the past, and whatever happened there, but the future, which these characters anticipate but don’t—yet—encounter.
Occasionally seductive, de Moor’s debut in English ultimately flounders in its own dreamy mists.