An impressive if overly self-conscious first novel, rife with imagery and eccentricity.
The aptly named Theobald Moon is enormously fat, obsessed with food, lonely, and innocent. He arrives in Arizona from London after his mother’s death. The chronicle of Theo's adjustment to his new life—planting a garden, making a cowboy friend, practicing yoga, beginning a notebook of fantasy stories—offers only shaky scaffolding for the gorgeous prose with which Elderkin describes everything Theo encounters, from exotic cactus and wild animals to a mouthwatering list of British sweets. Spliced into the account of Theo’s first year in the desert is the more recent history of his daughter, Josephine. Annoyingly fey as a small child, she acquires a provocative though slightly nasty edge when she grows into an unhappy adolescent no longer satisfied to hide with Theo (still unprepared for the harsher realities of the local community) in his isolated fairy-tale landscape. Elderkin’s third intertwining story chronicles the love affair of Eva, who works in a shoe factory in Slovakia, and Tibor, who sells ice cream and may or may not be a felon on the run. Less dependent on literary sleights-of-hand, the Eva & Tibor romance involves the reader more fully than the Theo & Josephine saga. Elderkin, à la Michael Cunningham in The Hours, plays out the three narratives in tandem, then reveals their underlying unity. The strings tying the sections together, however, are pretty obvious, and the conclusion feels thin. The real accomplishment here is the richness and detail of her sensory inventiveness.
While Elderkin’s talent and ambition are obvious, her magnificent language sometimes dwarfs the characters and their story.