In the final section, another change of narrator and a jump forward to 1970s Australia bring about the denouement. This is the only place Cliff seems to falter; he has much to reveal about his new storyteller while also needing to wrangle a sprawling plot. Events unspool perhaps a little slowly in the beginning of this section and then rather too quickly toward the end, leaving the characters’ motivations, and the truths we are eager to learn, somewhat occluded.
The Carpenter’s contributions to the overall arc of the novel, while full of rich descriptions of setting, are sluggish and expositional. The majority of his life story weighs down the middle third of the novel, which significantly slows the pacing and leaves the main plotline floating in the doldrums. There is much to enjoy in his biography, but at times it is exhaustive and overindulgent.
It is a strikingly vivid tale full of startling yet believable twists anchored by the compassionate portrayal of lives overrun with obsession and the drive for perfection. It is an original and gripping read, a rich book by an accomplished writer.
Here is where the story flounders. Cliff has Eugen and his father roaming aimlessly in search of Avis. He doesn’t seem to know what emotions to give them. They rage at each other in trite speeches, and we’re subjected to some creepy memories. The novel collapses in inchoate violence. After preternatural stillness and great exertions on sea and land, we’re left in a banal, stilted ending. Cliff’s first book, a short story collection, won a prize, but he hasn’t quite yet gotten the hang of the novel.