This soulful debut unpacks a family enigma involving a wandering daughter, a homeless father and their tenuous family ties.
The title might promise another light romantic romp about a footloose young woman in her late 20s. However, English newcomer Butler has greater gravitas in mind. The top 10 lists strewn throughout point to increasingly somber subjects: a mother’s early death, infidelity, a father’s death from cancer, and elder sisters who are both fervent and ambivalent in their affection for their much younger sibling, protagonist Alice. Summoned home from Mongolia to the bedside of Malcolm, her dying father, Alice is also forced to revisit London, the site of a traumatic rupture with her Indian lover, Kal, whose family wants to arrange a marriage for him. After Malcolm’s passing, sisters Tilly and Cee hint at what Alice has suspected since her mother’s death when she was 4 years old: She is viewed as an interloper in the only family she has ever known. Meanwhile, in alternating sections, Daniel, a homeless man, scours London for the daughter he fathered during a long-ago affair but has never met. Daniel’s plight stems both from the disastrous legacy of his gambler father and from an auto accident that bankrupted him. All he knows is that the woman he is searching for might have red hair, like her mother, and is named Alice. Delicately, through the accretion of telling details, the reader learns that Daniel’s Alice and our heroine are one and the same, but Alice thinks her father has just died. When, while helping another destitute man reconnect with his lost child, Daniel happens across Malcolm’s obituary, complete with relatives’ names and the location of memorial services, he realizes his quest may soon be fulfilled if he has the courage to gamble. Improbably but convincingly, his initial diffident overtures to Alice take the form of mini art installations. Spare language and an atmosphere of foreboding will keep readers on tenterhooks.
Whimsy and pathos, artfully melded.