An absorbing and disquieting tale of love, friendship, and betrayal: debut fiction written by Australian author Johnson during her first pregnancy (see her memoir, A Better Woman, p. 160).
The story is set mostly in 1980s Hong Kong as the lives of three characters intersect as each struggles to find fulfillment in their otherwise successful lives. First, there are artist Rachel Gallagher and her friend and fellow artist Anne-Louise Buchan, who meet while working for a fashion magazine in Sydney. Anne-Louise is outrageous, daring, and ambitious, while Rachel is timid and conventional—“an acceptor,” not a “striver” like Anne-Louise. When the two have saved enough money, they head for Europe, determined to become real artists. But Anne-Louise becomes manic and suffers a breakdown as she tries to paint what she believes is a great insight into life; after Anne-Louise recovers, Rachel returns to Australia and becomes a prizewinning artist. Eventually, Anne-Louise moves to Hong Kong to work for an international organization, and there she meets the third member of the triangle, handsome Martin Bannister, just as troubled and driven as Anne-Louise. A coolheaded money trader and financial whiz, he is far less sure-footed in his personal life: he was in his 20s before he met his father for the first time; his unstable mother abandoned him as a baby (then reclaimed him some years later, after she had remarried); and Martin himself is divorced. He’s also a sadist, finding sexual release in abusing prostitutes. During a reunion with Anne-Louise in Hong Kong, Rachel learns that her erstwhile friend is in love with Martin, and later meets him. But Anne-Louise’s old demons return, and Rachel, after seeking Martin’s assistance, does something with unforgivable and terrible consequences for both her and Anne-Louise.
Strongly written and intelligent evocation, in well-rendered settings, of the darker side of love and friendship.