Book Review: Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The marble is inscribed with a name they don’t recognize- it sounds French, but they’ve seen it before. And as if that weren’t enough, the flowers the man left behind are not flowers at all. Instead, resting atop the grass and loam and dried husks of chestnuts is something bizarre, something out of place, something that they can neither understand nor believe. A single bunch of green bananas.

When Barry and Sophie wash up on the shores of a remote, uninhabited South Pacific island following a plane crash we gain an unadulterated look into the strength of the human spirit and the mystery of the human heart.

And so it came to pass that two utterly disparate lives happened to overlap: a young architect from Paris’s tenth arrondissement, prematurely widowed at age twenty-eight, and a relatively young banker from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, prematurely retired at age thirty-four, bound together on an uninhabited island some 2,359 miles from Hawaii, 4,622 miles from Chile, and 533 miles from the nearest living soul.

Barry took a close look at his life working nine to five as a banker for Lehman Bros. and realized he was a sheep in wolf’s clothing- his true passion lay in painting, particularly in the paintings of one Paul Gauguin. So he donated the majority of his life savings to The United Way, packed his canvases and oil paints and enough, or so he thought, pairs of contact lenses to ensure that he was able to see the wonders of the French Polynesian islands that so captured his idol and set out for a trip that would alter his path in life forever.

Sophie is newly married to the man of her dreams, Etienne, whom she met while studying architecture at university. Before giving everything to their Parisian architecture firm they decide to take a trip to Tahiti. Sophie suggests they hop over to Marquesas so she can bask in the same sunlight shared years before by Jacques Brel, a singer she greatly admires. But circumstance, and a pilot with an obscene drinking problem, drastically alter this itinerary and Sophie’s future.

Their only hope, and a dwindling hope it was, was that someone out there might still find them or that the ships that passed near the island might someday return. The uncertainty of it all was sickening, almost poisonous in its intensity.

Armed with an impressive set of skills from Barry’s days in Boy Scouts and working on his family’s Midwestern farm and Sophie’s lessons with her grandfather in the Pyrenees and her training as an architect and plenty of green, starchy bananas they are theoretically prepared to survive life as castaways. That is, except for one major flaw: they cannot agree on even the most simplest of things, and it is that discord that may lead them closer to the dire end that looms ahead, seemingly as inescapable as the very island itself. When a tropical storm beats down upon the miniature island, ripping their precious bananas from the trees, they are forced to face their inevitable fate- die apart or join together to survive.

A surge of seawater caught them knee-deep as the cleared the sand and entered into the palms, all of which were bowed and thrashing in the storm. For once, Sophie didn’t argue and Barry didn’t question- they both simple ran, legitimately terrified by what was happening around them.

What they didn’t expect while sheltering inside a rocky mountain crevice was to find within the other person a soul that perfectly matched their own, as if they had been waiting all this time to end up on a deserted island, free of life’s endless distractions, to focus on the love they were meant to experience. And experience it they do, with a fullness born of their isolation, of their desperation for human contact and for salvation.

Although it was never spoken, there was a mutual understanding that without the other, neither would have survived alone on the island. Their relationship was the bulb that burned on in the darkness; their love was the rigging that kept the sails intact. And they didn’t need a preacher or priest or an until death do us part to place benediction upon that which was abundantly clear.

Castle of Water is first and foremost an adventure tale, reminiscent of similar classic stories and their authors, but with modern twists and a vivid prose all its own. The escapades of Barry and his unavoidable contact lens mishaps provide a lightness that floats the plot along at a steady clip while the romance between him and Sophie serves as an anchor that grounds the story in human experience until the heartbreaking conclusion.

After all, how did her do it? How did they do it? What does it take to not only survive such a thing, but then live the rest of your life with that thing inside you?

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A review copy of this title was provided by the author and Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press)

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