Anxieties about a pet gone missing in the Australian bush spark a cerebral, enigmatic reflection on cultures and identity.
The latest novel by the Sri Lankan-born, Australian-based author (The Hamilton Case, 2004, etc.) is an unsettling interweaving of past and present existences, linked via several anguished days in the life of Tom Loxley, a mixed-race academic finishing a book subtitled Henry James and the Uncanny. While he’s wrapping up this work at his friend Nelly Zhang’s country shack, Tom’s dog disappears, leading to repeated searches and painful fantasies about its fate. Having been abandoned by his wife, Tom now finds his life dominated by two other women, his aging and decaying Eurasian mother, Iris, who fills him with feelings of guilt and resentment, and bohemian Nelly, with whom his relationship is reluctantly platonic. Nelly’s work and her magpie lifestyle are both exceptional; she also has an odd history, her husband having been the subject of a notorious disappearance (after financial irregularities) which also implicated her. Ideas of art and literature, acceptance, ghosts, modernity, excreta, ancient landscape, the detritus of urban life and far more twine through the narrative, which contains as much minute, detached insight as it does pure story. Ultimately Tom’s hopes are gratified in ways he scarcely dared hope, yet he remains an outsider, life’s random uncertainties continuing to surround him.
Ruminative and roving in form, an intense, immaculate, somewhat abstract novel.