In a novel first published in the U.K. in 2006, Greenlaw (Mary George of Allnorthover, 2001, etc.) tries to shed light on the complicated Clough family—with mixed results.
Tobias Clough did not die during a ’90s bombing in London. He died afterwards in a traffic accident, ramming his motorcycle into the back of a car after police stopped traffic because of the threat of another explosion. The book examines Tobias’s death and its impact on his family, especially siblings Carlo (a doctor), Fred (a banker), Clara (an artist) and Juliet (an art historian). The author turns Carlo’s identification of the body into a ballet of words, and she captures both her native London, as well as small-town New England (Juliet escapes for a year to teach at a tiny college), in lush detail. Yet all that crafting often goes to waste. The book is supposed to be a coming-of-age story, with the Clough family and Tobias’s widow Mary overcoming his death and coming into their own—particularly Juliet, the book’s focus. But Juliet’s muddled love affair with charming and elusive author Jacob Dart doesn’t propel her to a new level of, well, anything. Nor does Clara’s longing for Jacob, whose portrait she paints for his estranged wife. Even Fred, who buys a house and nearly gets the girl of his dreams, fails to blossom. Which makes a conversation Jacob and Juliet have near the beginning of the novel all the more ironic. She attacks Jacob’s widely read book Foucault’s Egg for lacking real meaning. Outside of being a meandering and lyrical dissertation on how different people grieve, Greenlaw’s novel suffers from the same thing.
The prose may be beautiful, but the story is not compelling.