CHARLOTTE GRIMSHAW ( VINTAGE, $ 38)
Frances has an unexpected encounter with an ex in a park – it’s not spelled out, but she and we find it vaguely unsettling. There’s an air of ambiguous menace right from the start of Mazarine. More worryingly than the chance encounter, Frances’s daughter, Maya, travelling on the other side of the globe, has lost contact with her mother. The increasingly lengthy silence becomes increasingly worrying for Frances.
Frances tell this story in the first person, but her reliability as a narrator is questionable. She is, for instance, convinced her stepmother is hostile to her, but tells us unselfconsciously that the rest of the family think this is ridiculous. At various points, she questions her own existence. Her therapist thinks she may have dissociative disorder.
Her life seems to be a series of lost or missed connections and, indeed, she is planning a novel on that very subject. But before she can get to it, she has to reconnect with her daughter. In the process of attempting to do so, she connects with Maya’s (also missing) boyfriend’s mother, Mazarine, who owns a lot of crime thrillers. She likes them because, she says, everything gets solved, unlike in real life.
Mazarine also has a letterbox depicting Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – it’s how Frances tracks her down. As they team up on a quest to find their missing children, it’s not clear which is Quixote and which Sancho, although it seems to be Frances who shares the knight’s slim grip on reality.
In her customarily deft prose, Grimshaw unspools this dryly ironic tale of international connections and the threads that bind us all through the intimate labyrinth the modern world has become. The themes weave in and out of the action seamlessly, but the
swiftly tied up and neat ending may leave us more doubtful than ever about Frances’s account of things.