Castle of Water: A Novel

Castle of Water: A Novel

by Dane Huckelbridge


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"A unique, inventive exploration of love, loss, and survival." —Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale

"A moving, harrowing, and downright literary novel." —Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment

"Brilliant, clever, riveting—pick your adjective, they all apply." —Thomas Christopher Greene, bestselling author of The Headmaster's Wife

Two very different people, one very small island.

For Sophie Ducel, her honeymoon in French Polynesia was intended as a celebration of life. The proud owner of a thriving Parisian architecture firm, co-founded with her brilliant new husband, Sophie had much to look forward to—including a visit to the island home of her favorite singer, Jacques Brel.

For Barry Bleecker, the same trip was meant to mark a new beginning. Turning away from his dreary existence in Manhattan finance, Barry had set his sights on fine art, seeking creative inspiration on the other side of the world—just like his idol, Paul Gauguin.

But when their small plane is downed in the middle of the South Pacific, the sole survivors of the wreck are left with one common goal: to survive. Stranded hundreds of miles from civilization, on an island the size of a large city block, the two castaways must reconcile their differences and learn to draw on one another's strengths if they are to have any hope of making it home.

Told in mesmerizing prose, with charm and rhythm entirely its own, Dane Huckelbridge's Castle of Water is more than just a reimagining of the classic castaway story. It is a stirring reflection on love’s restorative potential, as well as a poignant reminder that home—be it a flat in Paris, a New York apartment, or a desolate atoll a world away—is where the heart is.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250098221
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 207,503
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

DANE HUCKELBRIDGE was born and raised in the American Midwest. He holds a degree from Princeton University, and his works of fiction and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Tin House, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. Castle of Water is his first novel. Dane currently resides in Paris, France.

Read an Excerpt

Castle Of Water

By Dane Huckelbridge

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 Dane Huckelbridge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-09822-1


The flat is in the tenth arrondissement of Paris, on a derelict street called Château d'Eau. To find it is simple: Just take a right at the arch, go down rue Saint-Denis, steer clear of the dog shit, and you cannot miss it. To find beauty in it, however, is a bit more daunting. The charms of the alley do exist, if one squints past the worn-out tabacs and disheveled filles de joie that ply their trades along its curbs. Fortunately, the man who lives there is accustomed to squinting and proud to call the place his home.

He wakes earlier than usual on this particular morning. He does not rise immediately but lies awake for a moment, savoring the stillness of the chill blue hour. Then, at last, he decides to get up. A splash of water on the face, a quick brushing of teeth, a puckering spit, and a satisfied gargle. He smiles at his scarred and bearded reflection — grayer, it seems, with each passing day.

Ablutions complete, it's time to get dressed. First he slips on an old moth-hounded sweater, followed by corduroy trousers flecked with white paint. A Harris Tweed jacket is pulled from the closet, the elbows of which are worn down to fuzz. Oh, and shoes — can't forget those. The man puts on argyle socks and scuffed leather brogans and tiptoes out of his bedroom door. He considers briefly leaving a note in the kitchen but doubts he'll be gone long enough to even be missed. He does, however, pause at the end of the hallway, to press his ear to another door and give it a listen. Satisfied with the silence, he leaves the flat, padding delicately down the winding stairs, past the dim halos of hall lights conferred upon wallpaper, only to realize halfway down that he's forgotten yet again to put in his contacts. Damnit. He trundles back up and plops them in without so much as a glimpse in the mirror. Then he leaves.

The man decides to have breakfast at a café in the neighborhood, and he sits outside despite the chill. Huddled in his chair, fingers laced around his coffee, he watches the city yawn back to life. The rising sun scrubs the indigo out of the air; the streets for once smell washed and clean. Shopkeepers are slowly raising their shutters, starch-crisp waiters are unstacking their chairs. Even the femmes de la nuit have called it a night. It's all part of a timeless ritual, one of which he never tires.

The man finishes only one of his two tartines, perhaps because he is not very hungry, possibly because of something more. The untouched piece of toast is wrapped in a napkin and pocketed away for general safekeeping. He pays the waiter, slurps back the last of his coffee, and heads next door to a Turkish grocer. The door chimes and he vanishes inside, only to reemerge seconds later with a paper bag tucked under his arm. With his free hand he hails a taxi and asks to be taken to Père Lachaise.

The driver is a friendly West African named Noël. The melodies of his homeland pulse quietly through the radio. The man likes the music and asks the driver where it is from. Senegal, the driver says. The man settles back into his seat, absorbing the rhythms and enjoying the ride. He gazes out at the fountains etched in verdigris, and the monuments steeped in history, and the streets lined with cracked cobblestones. He clutches his paper bag both tightly and tenderly, as if it is a precious thing that someone might take. He closes his eyes and lets the light bleed through his eyelids, as marimbas hint at warmer climes.

The sun is still low but fully risen when the man arrives at the gates of Père Lachaise — which are, incidentally, in the process of being opened by a jumpsuited groundskeeper lame in one leg. Bonjour, Claude, the man says to the groundskeeper. Bonjour, monsieur, the groundskeeper replies. Also waiting beside the entrance is a quartet of American art students, smoking cigarettes and laughing to themselves. Unlike the man with the paper bag, they are young and have been up all night. In a burst of drunken enthusiasm, they decided to pay the famous cemetery a visit.

One of the Americans thinks he recognizes the man with the paper bag — he looks very familiar. The boy's eyes bulge, the beard and the scars. Holy shit, he whispers, his unlit Lucky Strike tumbling from his lips. Is that who I think it is? His friends cast glances over their hunched shoulders. It is. To think, they came to see a dead rock star and instead happened upon a living legend. They titter among themselves, giddy just to be standing so close. They know he lives in Paris. And they've certainly heard all the stories. Should they follow him in? The groundskeeper stands aside and the man with the paper bag enters. They should, and they do.

The man with the paper bag does not notice them, however. His mind is on other things. He walks with serene intent through the inordinate quietude and beauty of the place, a monument to France itself. The fading names above the crypts are soft as feathers when uttered upon the lips — which he does, without a breath, with hardly a sound, the downy purr of double r's, the agile sweep of accents aigus.

His path takes him beneath a wicker of frosted elm trees, down a brief and chestnut-scattered embankment, to a cluster of old family plots on the cemetery's edge. He goes delicately but with purpose — he knows the way, he is intimate with these surroundings. The American students trail behind by a respectful distance. They are curious but have no wish to disturb him. Wait until we tell our friends back home, they say, the insatiable lot of them murmuring as one.

The man stops at last in front of a grave, newer and less faded than the rest. The moss has yet to even stake its claim. The students hold back; they suddenly feel guilty, unintentionally intrusive. But they know they can't turn away. They look on as the object of their curiosity kneels before the grave. His head is bowed, and his hands are resting upon the headstone. He seems to be speaking — but what is he saying? They can't make out a single word. Whatever it is, it goes on for some time, until at last, his vigil concluded, the man wipes his eyes and rises to his feet. He takes something from the paper bag, something thick and clustered — what, they're not certain — and sets it down upon the grave. Then he turns and walks away.

The students wait until he is well out of sight before they dare approach. They are flabbergasted by what they have seen. Whose grave is this, anyway? they wonder aloud. And, like, what kind of flowers were those, exactly? They gather about the headstone in the cold morning light, the four of them shivering and goosefleshed and dying to know.

The marble is inscribed with a name they don't recognize — it sounds French, but they've never 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.

The American students shake their heads and relight their cigarettes. They purse their lips and exhale in wonder. What exactly just happened? one of them asks, a girl in blue jeans and artfully trimmed bangs. I mean, like, do you think the stories are true? I have no idea, another answers, scuffing the cobblestones with his canvas sneaker. But it beats the hell out of Jim Morrison any day. And I'm, like, totally starving. Anybody want to go get breakfast?

They all do. And they count the crumpled remainder of the night's euros to make sure they have enough, and they leave the bananas behind for the departed to keep.


At the first sputter of the engine and hint of a downward pitch, Barry Bleecker had uttered a prayer. He had prayed for a miracle. And a miracle was precisely what he received, although perhaps not one as helpful as he had hoped. For despite his entreaties to God, Buddha, Allah, and Vishnu, the engine did not kick back to life, the little Cessna 208 Caravan did not cease its dive, and no, he was not spared the soul-wrenching impact. The screams, the weeping, the bracing for death — all of that went on as fate had planned. But Barry, still semiconscious amid the floating debris and flaming oil, was spared his contact lenses and a single bottle of saline solution — neither of which seemed particularly miraculous, drifting by in a sealed Ziploc baggy at that dark and desperate moment. He almost forgot to gather them up, preoccupied as he was with staying afloat and expelling the salt water from his lungs. But gather them he did, perhaps compelled by the hint of buoyancy that the baggy provided. He tucked it up under his shirt, moaned once more toward the god(s) he assumed had forsaken him, and pushed off from the smoking hunk of fuselage to which he had been clinging barnacle tight ... from the blue haze of the horizon, a fringe of palm beckoned.

The promise of firm ground proved more elusive than Barry had thought. The swim felt interminable, and in the dips between swells, when he lost sight of his destination, he nearly gave up hope. But the pure, reptilian desire to prevail goaded him on. His leaden arms kept paddling, his wooden legs never ceased to kick. When his body was finally washed up, dragged back, and then washed up again onto the sand, he wept like a baby, rolling onto his back, roaring with grief, although for what he did not know. Once that wellspring of emotion ran itself dry, he sat up, blinked, and looked at his surroundings. Or at least attempted to look — what met his eyes was a myopic blur. At some point — possibly in the crash, but more likely during his ordeal in the water — Barry Bleecker had lost both of his contact lenses. A loss of vision that could easily lead to a loss of life for a horribly nearsighted man stranded on a desert island 2,359 miles from Hawaii, 4,622 miles from Chile, and 533 miles from the nearest living soul. And at that moment, on the palm-lined rim of an uninhabited South Pacific atoll, Barry Bleecker was just such a fellow. Or almost such a fellow. For no sooner had he realized his predicament than he remembered the Ziploc baggy, which by then had tumbled from beneath his sopping Charles Tyrwhitt dress shirt and settled atop the soggy crotch of his Brooks Brothers slacks. At which point Mr. Bleecker, nerves and clothing equally frayed, laughed hysterically. A miracle, after all.

Barry dragged himself a few yards to drier ground, whisked the sand from his fingers, and peeled open the precious plastic bag. The foil top of the first contact lens package (there were six packages, which meant three pairs) was stubborn but gave. He set one on the tip of his index finger and examined it like the precious jewel that it was. Then, after a quick and cleansing splash with the saline solution, he plunked it into his eye. Hallelujah! What had been an inscrutable haze transformed with a blink into a vivid seascape. With a pirate's one-eyed squint, Barry took stock of the foam-wreathed shoreline, the waltzing fronds, and the dappling of cirrus clouds that crawled across an otherwise impeccably blue sky (the storm that downed them having by that point passed). It was midday, and the sun was high. Quickly, he inserted the other contact as well and took to absorbing his new environs in their full three-dimensional splendor. On rubbery legs he executed his first tottering steps, calling out for help as he explored the beach. He walked for some time, shouting through cupped hands and listening through cupped ears, with waves and rustling the only response. And then his heart leapt — up ahead, a set of footprints in the sand. A tart joy overtook Barry as he raced forward, nearly tripping over the tattered cuffs of his slacks. Footprints! It could only mean ... And then he stopped in his tracks. Literally his tracks. The footprints were his own. He had circled the entire island, and he was suddenly horrified by both his loneliness and its tininess. Circumnavigating the thing had taken less than ten minutes. And Barry wept, not for the first time on that diminutive island and certainly not for the last.

The arrival of night brought Barry little solace. The screams of tree frogs and the pitched chatter of insects, yes, but no solace. Crouched and shivering in a crude bower of palm fronds, surrounded by darkness, he reached instinctively to his pocket for a cigarette, only to dump out their mashed remains. In doing so, however, he remembered the plastic Bic that was tucked in the cellophane. And that, unlike his Parliament Lights, was still serviceable — he flicked at the flint and summoned a flame. And an idea came to him: a signal fire. Surely rescue planes would be out combing the waves. They would likely even pass over the island in their search for survivors. Barry struggled to his feet, again tripping over his tattered cuffs, and began gathering the driest palm fronds he could. After several trips to the beachhead, he had a rather impressive pile and, after a few dabs of his lighter, a convincing flame. He stood beside it, watching and waiting, certain the spotlights of some chopper or seaplane would come blazing from the murk. When they didn't, and the fire burned down to embers, he scurried for more fronds to resuscitate it — an exercise that proved less than fruitful. Halfway into his second armful, it began to rain. Not a demure tropical sprinkle, but an honest-to-goodness downpour. Barry hurried back to his palm bower and huddled beneath its meager shelter. At some point, exhausted, he curled up to sleep, but on the cusp of obtaining it, he realized he had forgotten to take out his contacts. Crap. With exquisite tenderness, he removed each from its respective eye and deposited it carefully into its respective holder. He placed the plastic case in his pocket, beside the suddenly priceless Bic, and finally, blanketed by chill rains, lulled by the high whine of midges, he fell headfirst into a cavernous slumber.


Barry awoke to a parched throat, sore muscles, a mild sunburn, and the sickening realization of the predicament he was in. But first things first. Water, and then food. He had swallowed a considerable amount of ocean the previous day, and his last meal had been a granola bar consumed at the airport in Tahiti. Slowly, achingly, he crawled from beneath his little teepee of palm fronds and rose to his feet. He cracked his neck and squinted into the sunlight; it was overcast, but still bright. The waves rolled in, steadily, incessantly. The air tasted faintly of brine.

After a quick and unsettling bathroom break (the darkness of his urine was a disturbing reminder of his dehydration), he put in his contact lenses and turned for the first time away from the sea, toward the little island's bosky heart. And bosky it was. Columns of trunks propped up an ever-shifting ceiling of frond leaves, through which fugitive slats of sunlight escaped. He stepped gingerly over the prickly undergrowth, as he had lost both his loafers the day before. The terrain became increasingly rocky the farther in he ventured, until he came to the base of a mountain or, perhaps more accurately, very steep hill. Boulders, bedded with some form of ferny moss, rose to a peak some five or six stories overhead. And nested snugly in their crevices were birds: gulls or terns or cormorants. Barry didn't know, but they were living creatures sharing in his fate. And even more important, he found water. Two separate rock pools, both about the size of Jacuzzis, were coolly waiting, filled to the brim with the previous night's rain. Barry inspected the pools first before consuming their contents. They both looked clean enough — one had a few odd squigglies jetting about its edge, some larvae, perhaps, but nothing that screamed befoulment. Barry chose the slightly more pristine of the two and brought several handfuls of the water to his lips. Its flavor was fresh and deliciously minerally, not unlike a white wine he had once tasted while touring Napa Valley with his girlfriend — fine, ex-girlfriend — Ashley. Well, perhaps that was a slight exaggeration, but after all he'd been through, a gulp of clean, cold water was nothing to sneeze at.

Once his thirst was slaked, all that remained was for his appetite to be sated, and that came courtesy of the island's banana trees. Somehow he had missed the bunches of green, starchy fruit, dangling just above head level. But upon noticing their presence, he also became aware of their prevalence. Good, thought Barry, chewing on his sixth banana and fully prepared to eat six more. Water and bananas. I shall want for neither hydration nor potassium. And he laughed at his little joke, which, anyone with experience in survival situations can tell you, is a promising sign. Attitude is everything, and those that turn negative can be just as ruinous as diseased streams and toxic berries.


Excerpted from Castle Of Water by Dane Huckelbridge. Copyright © 2017 Dane Huckelbridge. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Castle of Water: A Novel 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed me from the first page and proceeded to introduce me to two characters whom I will never forget. This story felt like a classic that i was sad to see end.
Anonymous 16 days ago
I couldn't put it down.
TopShelfTextBlog More than 1 year ago
Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own! Before we begin, I'll just say this: Please read this book. If you trust me, and trust that I will not lead you astray, then please put Castle of Water on hold at the library. Or go right now to your preferred book-buying destination and secure yourself a copy, because this book is going on my top ten list this year and it deserves to be in the hands of more readers. If that's not enough to get it on your TBR, let me tell you a little about it (but not too much because -- it's one of those books). This novel follows Sophie, a french architect who was on the way to the second leg of her honeymoon with her new husband, and Barry, an American and former investment banker who quit his job to follow in the footsteps of his favorite artist. Sophie and Barry meet on the tarmac of a small airport in Tahiti, and neither thinks anything of it -- they are acquaintances, bound for the same small island. But when the plane goes down, they are the only survivors, and they must learn how to live on a tiny, unmarked island in the middle of the South Pacific. I want to tell you that I have terrible anxiety when it comes to flying, and I was worried this story would be hard to read because of it, but that wasn't a factor for me at all. I also want you to know that even though this novel tells us the story of two people in an awful and morbid situation, it has so much humor and eloquence and it made me both cry and laugh as I read. As soon as I turned the final page, I leapt up from my chair, walked around the house making noises and all kinds of exclamations (I have a friend who was visiting at the time and had to witness this), and then promptly sat down to email Dane Huckelbridge, the author, to thank him for putting this in my hands and to tell him that it gave me all the feelings.
toReadistoEscape More than 1 year ago
I received a copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Castle of water was a fun read, part adventure, part romance. You have to have an imagination to enjoy the book. Because, some of the things they are able to do on the island a little far fetched. For me there were a few slow parts and I didn’t “love” the ending. To avoid spoilers I won’t be specific, but there were some parts of the story towards the end I would have enjoyed getting more detail. Some important information was skipped in my opinion. Overall it is a fun summer read.