In his mid-thirties, Tom Loxley is a semi-successful literary professor currently working on a book about the works of Henry James. But lately Tom is haunted by his childhood in India, under the tutelage of a glamorous, doting mother and a father who, although extravagant and a drunk, is able to bring his family to make a new life for themselves in 1970's Australia.
A thoughtful and self-aware character, Tom critically examines those around him, while still emotionally attached to his octogenarian mother, Iris, whose arthritic knees are steadily diminishing her quality of life, and later, his status conscious ex-wife, who over the years after their divorce has treated Tom with a mixture of disdain and condescending authority.
The sudden loss of his dog in the Australian bush really jump-starts his reveries about his life seven months earlier.
The last vision he sees is the animal, lean and white, rust-spotched, springing up a bank, the lost dog unleashing in him a
manner of grace, "a kind of beastliness."
Tom's journey of self-discovery begins with a painting he sees at a suburban art gallery
which he hasn't entered in the four years since his wife left. Here at a group show Tom meets the Chinese-Australian artist and photographer Nelly Zhang and is drawn instantly to her mysteriousness and her artistic sensibilities. Soon enough he's visiting Nelly at The Preserve,
the ramshackle warehouse that serves as her home and studio, shared with her son teenage son, Rory, and the beautiful fellow artist Yelena, whom "men circle like moons."
Tom lives in a remote and insular world. A true thinker, his days are carefully constructed, with his concerns about Iris's failing health almost threatening to consume him. It's not surprising, then, that he develops an increasing need for Nelly, beguiled by her sweetness and for the world that she has created, an indistinct world that seems to offer more questions than answers.
Even as Nelly steadily endears herself to Tom, there are ambiguities eddying under the surface. She stages elaborate scenarios that mimic the solidarity of truth: a detailing of good fortune that precluded a failed relationship, a famous husband who once vanished, his body never found, and rumors of an unhappy marriage
filled with arguments about money.
Tom tries to piece together all these bit and pieces, the little unconnected facts about Nelly's life, longing to know more about
her short-lived marriage and the mystery surrounding her missing husband. Meanwhile, he continues to search for his dog, the missing animal a powerful metaphor for Tom's own life in Australia, where even after all these years, his past childhood in India keeps glimmering to the surface.
A novel that absolutely swirls with kaleidoscopic images of contemporary Australia and traditional India, de Krester's prose churns and whirls atop the page like an abstract painting.
All the while, the author is intent to explore the notion of art and its place in contemporary Australian society.
As love and truth morph into one, Tom and Nelly eventually navigate the rocky shores of her past, both coming to terms with the fact that Tom's visions are symptomatic of his far more profound desires in this metaphorically complex and deeply satisfying tale.