Set in a contemporary (or recent-past), vaguely Eastern European country, torn by civil (?) war, this is an insular, even claustrophobic tale which mixes philosophy and perversion.
(In it's non-specificity, it almost feels like a fantasy setting, but there are no supernatural elements in the book.)
Stylistically and even thematically, it reminded me very strongly of Hermann Hesse - but much, much nastier. The writing is also, however, just full of hilariously clever, witty turns of phrase.
The book begins with an aristocratic couple fleeing their castle along with a host of more plebeian refugees. However, escape is not to be. A female military lieutenant stops them and decides to commandeer their services and their home as barracks for her men.
The story is presented solely through the eyes of the lord of the manor - Abel. No other point of view is presented, and he's rather - odd, psychologically, which gives the other characters a strangely 'flat' feel. Some reviewers criticized this as a failure of characterization, but it's definitely an intentional part of the writing - it's not that the people lack character or voice, but that Abel does not perceive them fully.
As might be expected when a number of rag-tag guerilla-type fighters are garrisoned in a beautiful medieval estate - unpleasant things happen. But are the aristocrats innocent victims of a brutal conflict? Are their self-centered and perverse secrets somehow, indirectly responsible? Is the violence and crudity of the soldiers a symbol for the state of the common man?
Or are all these things just incidental, presented for shock value? After a slow build-up of unpleasantness, it ends with a quite entertaining twisted religious allegory...
Lots to think about... but also quite fun.
Well written but hugely dark and depressing