Books

Char­lotte Grimshaw’s lat­est is an ab­sorb­ing, multi-lay­ered mys­tery.

New Zealand Listener - - CON­TENTS - By MARK BROATCH

By Char­lotte Grimshaw, Lionel Shriver and Anne Buist, plus a thriller round-up.

Frances Sin­clair is an Auck­land writer, of jour­nal­ism, fic­tion, screen­plays. She lives alone, her daugh­ter Maya hav­ing gone to Lon­don with her boyfriend, Joe. Then Maya dis­ap­pears, at least in the 21st-cen­tury sense of not stay­ing in touch dig­i­tally. When a shady ex, Pa­trick, ran­domly ap­pears in Frances’s house, she gets spooked and makes a hasty de­ci­sion to find her daugh­ter.

The Mazarine of the ti­tle of Char­lotte Grimshaw’s new novel is Joe’s mother, whom Frances tries to track down to see if she can help. The ac­tion shifts to Lon­don and Paris, and to re­veal any more would jeop­ar­dise the sus­pense.

Grimshaw’s novels al­ways de­liver ten­sion, in­trigue, drama. Her sto­ries are con­tem­po­rary, usu­ally vividly set in Auck­land or there­abouts and packed with plot.

Se­ri­ous doesn’t mean po-faced, though. The book bris­tles with life and is full of sen­sa­tions, hu­mour, rip­pling in­ter­changes and sud­den po­etry: “I … found my seat and set­tled in for the next round, the stunned hours, the dizzy curve of the Earth, dreams of Pa­trick and Maya.” It com­ments on so­ci­ety, not gauchely, but in pass­ing glances and sub­tle asides. Grimshaw cares about the world we live in and asks us to care, too.

As in pre­vi­ous books, frag­ments of re­al­ity in­trude to make up an al­ter­na­tive world we might call Grimshaw­land: Frances went to Men­ton in France as a child; Grimshaw’s fa­ther, CK Stead won the Kather­ine Mans­field fel­low­ship to Men­ton in the 70s. A Her­ald in­ter­viewer is charmed by Frances’s dog and wonders about the drag­on­fly on the cover of her book. Alice Munro and David Foster Wal­lace are dis­cussed. There’s the aw­ful shadow of Trump, Madeleine McCann, even the car­toon­ist Brom­head. Char­ac­ters in pre­vi­ous novels re­sem­bled John Key, John Camp­bell and Kim Dot­com.

It’s not just things ver­i­fi­able: Grimshaw builds in­volv­ing emo­tional worlds. Frances is lonely, feels un­able to read peo­ple and frets about whether she’s los­ing her grip, and it’s to the au­thor’s credit that we are never quite sure about that, ei­ther. Frances slowly finds her way, comes to un­ex­pected re­al­i­sa­tions, per­haps dis­cov­ers a new, real self.

It’s been a while since Grimshaw has headed over­seas in her novels, and Mazarine, her ninth work of fic­tion, demon­strates that she knows Eng­land and its peo­ple well. Road trips al­ways run the risk of turn­ing into “hol­i­day snaps” ac­counts – “and then she went there” – but the au­thor is far too good for that.

Grimshaw’s ear­lier novels The Night Book and Soon were tri­umphs and would have been sit­ters for film or tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion in any other civilised coun­try. For me, the cen­tral re­la­tion­ship in Mazarine in­trigues but doesn’t fully con­vince, and Grimshaw has so many plot plates spin­ning – Maya, an en­crypted USB drive, Frances’s bonkers fam­ily, the dodgy ex, Mazarine, a novel in progress, the threat of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism – that it’s no sur­prise a few wob­ble and the odd end is left un­tied or seems a lit­tle neat. But what a great film it would make, pro­vided it could cap­ture the book’s en­joy­able swirl of in­te­rior and ex­te­rior and its many mys­ter­ies, not least

Frances her­self.

The book is full of sen­sa­tions, hu­mour, rip­pling in­ter­changes and sud­den po­etry.

Char­lotte Grimshaw: spin­ning plot plates.

MAZARINE, by Char­lotte Grimshaw (Vintage/ Pen­guin Ran­dom

House, $38)

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