From Publishers Weekly
De Kretser (The Hamilton Case
) presents an intimate and subtle look at Tom Loxley, a well-intentioned but solipsistic Henry James scholar and childless divorcé, as he searches for his missing dog in the Australian bush. While the overarching story follows Tom's search during a little over a week in November 2001, flashbacks reveal Tom's infatuation with Nelly Zhang, an artist tainted by scandal—from her controversial paintings to the disappearance and presumed murder of her husband, Felix, a bond trader who got into some shady dealings. As Tom puts the finishing touches on his book about James and the uncanny and searches for his dog, de Kretser fleshes out Tom's obsession with Nelly—from the connection he feels to her incendiary paintings (one exhibition was dubbed Nelly's Nasties in the press) to the sleuthing about her past that he's done under scholarly pretenses. Things progress rapidly, with a few unexpected turns thrown in as Tom and Nelly get together, the murky circumstances surrounding Felix's disappearance are (somewhat) cleared up and the matter of the missing dog is settled. De Kretser's unadorned, direct sentences illustrate her characters' flaws and desires, and she does an admirable job of illuminating how life and art overlap in the 21st century. (Apr.)
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De Kretser (The Hamilton Case, 2004) renders prose that’s spare and sublime. It’s too bad the protagonist of her third novel is such a self-absorbed bore. Tom Loxley, a divorced professor living in Australia, spends his days dwelling on life’s minutia. This even includes his personal scent (“varnished wood with a bass note of cumin,” notes Tom, the same aroma as his late father). So when his dog goes missing in the Australian bush, it leads to endless rumination about what might have transpired. Some distraction is provided by Tom’s friend, Nelly, an eccentric painter whose life has the whiff of scandal (her husband disappeared under suspicious circumstances). Also of concern is Tom’s mother, Iris, a once-indomitable woman quickly withering with age. Tom’s scholarly pursuits (he’s writing a book on Henry James) are often upstaged by carnal preoccupations (namely, lust for Nelly, who repeatedly refuses his advances). And then there’s the matter of the dog. The mystery surrounding Nelly is by far the most interesting part of a book that sags under the weight of Tom’s tedious ways. --Allison Block