A young scholar is haunted by literal and metaphorical ghosts.
Frances, an Australian woman who must uproot from Melbourne to Sydney for a research fellowship, was raised a “solitary, studious girl, whose life had taken place in books.” Now a 28-year-old scholar of 18th-century art, Frances is adjusting to her new life not only as a Sydney resident, but as the lover of Charlie, who's left his marriage and his young son, Luke, to live with her. To mitigate against her disorientation—particularly when Luke comes to visit—Frances walks her dog through her new neighborhood. When she keeps glimpsing a woman no one else can see, wearing “an old-fashioned dress” and standing in a lushly landscaped backyard, she feels unsettled, a feeling compounded by a rash of mysterious phone calls. De Kretser (Questions of Travel, 2013, etc.) has crafted a story that is somewhere shy of novella, but the brevity suits not only the abruptness of the intrusions in Frances’ life, but also de Kretser’s knack for focusing on just a few charged details. Indeed, this is a story about perception as much as it is a kind of ghost story. Frances is never able to pin down the woman at the edges of her vision, and scenes of Frances’ interactions at dinner parties or with Luke (whom de Kretser renders masterfully) underscore the mundane ways all of us fail to truly articulate the way we see even to those closest to us. As the story comes to a close, Frances’ unearthly visions begin to cast light on her real life, resulting in a strange and resonant ending.
As Frances says of her own research: “What people don’t pay attention to changes the story.” A subtle and intellectual take on the supernatural.