"Oh dear yes – the novel tells a story," said E M Forster, and Barbara Trapido has taken his words to heart.
The narrative pulls you in from page one and you just want to know what will happen to these people. There's Josh, a diminutive, curly-haired academic, his six-foot, intellectual Amazon wife Caroline, and their ballet-loving daughter, who all live in a bus together, and there's Caroline's rebarbative mother; while over in Durban, there is Josh's former flame Harriet, a writer of ballet books for children, her domineering Boer husband, and their stroppy teenage daughter;. And then there's Jack, a mixed-race, self-educated South African of mysterious provenance. All these lives are deftly plaited together in a clever, surprise-filled, pleasingly symmetrical and utterly compelling story. This is a novel in which even inanimate objects – a tutu, some china Hummel figurines, a silver writing desk – become characters.
Trapido is particularly good at writing horrible characters, and you are never in any doubt about whose side you're on. The sharp distinction between the nice characters and the nasty ones affords a Harry Potterish kind of pleasure, but there's a more intellectual satisfaction to be had in the grace of the writing, the psychological insight and the acrobatics of Trapido's imagination. Think Anne Tyler crossed with Iris Murdoch.