This subtle debut novel has a central theme of love and loss within relationships and it told from the point of view of two characters, Alice and Daniel.
Alice – a wanderer, a backpacker – returns from Mongolia to spend time with her father who is dying of cancer. Her older sisters, Tilly and Cee, are also in the house, and instantly the sibling’s dynamics start up again – Tilly is sympathetic and warm towards Alice and bakes when stressed, while Cee – a compulsive list-maker – criticises and nags her. Alice has always sensed that their father has shared a secret with her sisters that she doesn’t know about, felt a twinge of exclusion, but also a sense of being protected from that secret. Their mother died when Alice was young, when picking Alice up from her ballet lessons, an event about which Alice has carried guilt for many years. She still yearns for her ex-boyfriend with whom she broke up because he wouldn’t tell his parents about her (I want Kal. I want him to massage the soles of my feet and paint my nails.)
Daniel is a homeless man, a vagrant who searches London for the daughter he has never met, the result of a year-long affair with a married woman. A synaesthete, he sees colours in letters and numbers (‘the letter A is the colour of glacier water…L is gold…I is magenta pink) and creates artistic ‘messages’ out of discarded junk which he leaves on street corners and fences for his daughter. Every year he makes a birthday card for her and posts it, fantasising that she’ll receive it (‘I write your name – I have that at least – but I don’t have an address).
Both characters are compulsive list-makers, always of ten items – this device allows for information to be conveyed to the reader in a quick, easy way, although I sometimes felt it disrupted the flow of the narrative.
The outcome is fairly obvious, but the book never descends into sentimentality and concludes in an open-ended fashion that remains open to interpretation by the reader.
A friend of mine found the book disappointing after the reviews she had read about it, but I enjoyed it. It is written with pathos and humour and I sympathised with both characters throughout the book.