The disappearance of a naïve young woman leads backward into a dissection of roots, family and friends in the praised Australian writer’s second novel (Gilgamesh, 2003).
“Everything we are, why we do what we do, is formed in childhood,” learns one of the characters. The narrative corroborates this opinion, looking into the backgrounds, turning points and developments of all the principal characters surrounding Maya de Jong, the 18-year-old country girl who arrives in Melbourne, gets a job, starts an affair with her predatory boss, then vanishes. London tracks back into the formative influences on Maya’s parents, Jacob and Toni, as well as outward to consider Maya’s brother, her landlady, her boss’s son and others, repeatedly noting the molding effect of early life: Jacob’s history is dominated by an absent father and hippie-ish ideals; Toni’s by a rebellious first marriage to a menacing older man. Departing from conventional mystery-story expectations, the novel combines impressive insight and control with a structure that opts for psychology over suspense. The result may be more ruminative, even static, than gripping, but enjoyment of London’s abilities sustains the reader’s interest through to an ending that errs on the side of too many neat conclusions.
Despite disappointments, polished and promising work from a writer to watch.