The language in this book is so poetic that is actually lives in its metaphors, merging with them until the metaphors are the reality. When Joris wins the competition at the beginning and is handed the keys to the tower, he feels he is being handed the keys to his tomb. And he is. Literally. And figuratively.
Joris is a member of an informal group of men who are trying to decide how to revive the city they love. Bruges has fallen on hard time. Joris does architectural restoration that preserves the historical look of the city. Others want to update, modernize, tear down the old and build up the new. He often ponders that it is the deadness, the stillness of the city that is beautiful. His goal is to preserve that deadness and let the rest of the world come and admire its beauty. His love for a beautiful woman, the second of 2 women he loves, isn't really all that different. She is still, unchanging, unflappable. He withdraws to his tower so that he can look down on the town, feel removed from it, get away from the action, above the world. She belongs there, too.
The woman he first loves, the one he marries, is all fire and action, emotional response. He lusts for her but can't really seem to love her. She has a bell, too. It's ancient and has lewd scenes carved on it. He ends up concluding that neither she nor the bell belongs in his deadness dream. But his dream, of course, is unattainable and, to those of us outside his obsession, not even attractive.
A beautiful, brief read that resonated with me. Pun intended.