When the parents of Ruth Schwarz – the protagonist of Austrian writer Raphaela Edelbauer’s disorientating debut novel The Liquid Land – die in mysterious circumstances, the ground is literally cut from beneath her feet.
Told they wanted to be buried in their hometown of Greater Einland, the troubled physicist sets off to find it; but it is not on any map and no-one is sure it exists.
Ruth, who is hooked on pills, is writing a post-doctoral thesis on block universe theory: the idea that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously.
When she finally stumbles on Greater Einland, she finds it is a town out of time, presided over by a ‘countess’ who governs by whim, and perched on a giant hole into which it is sinking.
Soon, Ruth is co-opted to invent a ‘filler’ – something that can be used to stop the subsidence – but, as she works, she discovers the hole is full of ugly secrets which she is determined to expose.
The symbolism is almost too obvious. The town, once the site of a satellite of the Mauthausen concentration camp, has buried its Nazi past. The hole represents repressed memory – collective and individual – which now threatens to swallow it up.