Two orphaned adults try to make sense of their father’s sudden death and their own grief.
Australian author Jones’ (A Guide to Berlin, 2015, etc.) new novel begins with a funeral. The eponymous Noah Glass, a 67-year-old art historian, is dead—found floating in his apartment complex’s swimming pool. His adult children, Martin and Evie, come together to mourn their father’s death and make sense of a shocking revelation: A famous sculpture is missing, and Noah is the prime suspect. In the aftermath of the funeral, Martin travels to seedy yet historic Palermo, Italy, to trace his father’s footsteps and solve the mystery; Evie moves into Noah’s apartment and tries to figure out her next steps. They work through their grief apart but together—over grainy Skype calls and through their childhood memories and respective traumas. Weaving together multiple narratives (Noah’s, Martin’s, and Evie’s), the novel sketches a family portrait full of love, loss, and regret. At times, the novel can feel weighed down by the overwhelming number of references to film, art history, and Australian and Italian history. Long stretches of the book seem tedious despite Jones’ emotional and stunning meditations on grief, knowledge, and memory. If there are issues with the plotting or pacing, Jones’ writing helps take the sting out. She distills complicated emotions and imagery and renders them beautifully: “the incandescent light falling like seawater over their small bent backs” and “clunky air conditioners stuck to their sides like ticks.” There are wonderful subplots—Evie takes a job describing films to a blind man; Martin struggles with his ex-wife over their daughter—that are far more satisfying than the crime at the novel’s center. The way Martin and Evie traverse their complex relationship in the wake of Noah’s death is a particular strength; their journey feels real and earned.
A sentence-level marvel burdened with too many layers.