Book Review: Defenestrate by Renee Branum

I received an Advance e-copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own. Publication Date: January 25, 2022

I’m a sucker for any book that might be set in Prague so I was immediately intrigued by the title of this debut novel. To me, the word defenestrate brings to mind the Defenestration of Prague so I felt confident that this book would include both falling out of windows and the capital city of the Czech Republic. It does.

Our narrator is Marta, a young woman growing up in a family with a curse for falling. The story goes that a few generation ago, their ancestor pushed a man out of a tower (in Prague) to his death. Since then, each member of this family is fated to fall. This is a curse that has followed them to America and to the present generation, namely Marta and her twin brother Nick.

As many twins seem to be, Marta and Nick are inextricably entwined. Indeed, Marta at least seems to have few other relationships in her life. The closest she gets to anybody else might be with the local bartender as she begins to drink more and more. When Nick becomes estranged from their parents, he and Marta decide to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and move to Prague. There they are brought closer to their own history but further from one another.

The story moves through time, through Marta and Nick’s childhood, as well as their family history. Scenes set in the present day follow Marta navigating the world after Nick has had his own great fall. Falling and its many varieties are a theme throughout and both the twins share an obsession with Buster Keaton, master of falling.

There’s a lot that’s unique and intriguing here and the way Branum ties together themes and history is admirable. The book, however, dragged for me. There’s very little in terms of plot or action that moves the story forward. We know there is a division in their nuclear family, we know that Nick has fallen, we know that the twins’ relationship is shifting. There is tension but not quite enough to push the reader forward. I kept waiting for more. Toward the end there is something of a reveal but I wouldn’t call it a twist or even particularly startling. It makes sense and casts a new light on the story but, I think, might have been more thought-provoking if it came earlier. As I said, this is a debut novel and I’ll be curious to see where Branum goes next.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Defenestrate by Renee Branum”

    1. I think it would have worked for me as a novella or even a short story. It is an interesting premise, just stretched out a little too long.

    1. This was maybe the right book at the wrong time for me. I’ve read a few recently that don’t have much plot and I’m getting tired of it!

    1. That sounds cool! I’ll go check it out. I spent a few months in Prague after I graduated from university. It became one of my favourite cities.

    1. I think it would have worked if it were shorter. That would have tightened things up and brought the focus in more clearly. Sometimes it’s helpful to know if a book is an author’s first since it can tell you that they may still be developing their voice and style.

  1. This idea of falling is a really interesting one, sorta of unnerving actually. I don’t know a single thing about Prague so that also interests me – some great armchair travelling 🙂

    1. It is interesting, the way the book explores all the different kinds of falls and why they might happen and what that might look like in one family. It just dragged on a bit too long for me with not enough to anchor it in a plot. But Prague is a beautiful city and the chapters set there do capture some of its vibrancy and culture nicely.

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