De Kretser (The Hamilton Case) presents an intimate and subtle look at Tom Loxley, a well-intentioned but solipsistic Henry James scholar and childless divorcé, as he searches for his missing dog in the Australian bush. While the overarching story follows Tom's search during a little over a week in November 2001, flashbacks reveal Tom's infatuation with Nelly Zhang, an artist tainted by scandal-from her controversial paintings to the disappearance and presumed murder of her husband, Felix, a bond trader who got into some shady dealings. As Tom puts the finishing touches on his book about James and "the uncanny" and searches for his dog, de Kretser fleshes out Tom's obsession with Nelly-from the connection he feels to her incendiary paintings (one exhibition was dubbed "Nelly's Nasties" in the press) to the sleuthing about her past that he's done under scholarly pretenses. Things progress rapidly, with a few unexpected turns thrown in as Tom and Nelly get together, the murky circumstances surrounding Felix's disappearance are (somewhat) cleared up and the matter of the missing dog is settled. De Kretser's unadorned, direct sentences illustrate her characters' flaws and desires, and she does an admirable job of illuminating how life and art overlap in the 21st century. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Lost Dogby Michelle de Kretser
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Tom Loxley, an Indian-Australian professor, is less concerned with finishing his book on Henry James than with finding his dog, who is lost in the Australian bush. Joining his daily hunt is Nelly Zhang, an artist whose husband disappeared mysteriously years before Tom met her. Although Nelly helps him search for his beloved pet, Tom isn't sure if he should trust this new friend.
Tom has preoccupations other than his book and Nelly and his missing dog, mainly concerning his mother, who is suffering from the various indignities of old age. He is constantly drawn from the cerebral to the primitive--by his mother's infirmities, as well as by Nelly's attractions. THE LOST DOG makes brilliant use of the conventions of suspense and atmosphere while leading us to see anew the ever-present conflicts between our bodies and our minds, the present and the past, the primal and the civilized.
While staying in a remote cabin trying to finish his book on Henry James, divorced college professor Tom Loxley loses his dog and sets out to find him in the Australian outback. Accompanying him is Nellie Zhang, a highly regarded contemporary artist with a scandal in her past-and a woman with whom Tom would like to be more than just friends. Tom's search for the dog is mirrored by multiple needs: to understand his past as an immigrant from India, to grasp both Nellie's art and her personal history (information about which is doled out in fragments), to be sensitive to his mother's growing disabilities, and to anchor himself in the present. De Kretser, whose The Hamilton Casewas a 2004 New York TimesNotable Book, overlays her protagonist's perceptions with layers of imagery-from nature, Henry James's ghost stories, contemporary art, urban decay, and renewal-creating a nuanced portrait of a man in his time. The novel, like Tom, is multicultural, intelligent, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding. Recommended for all literary fiction collections.
New York Times Book Review
Washington Post Book World
ratifies every dream one might have of a tropical landscape....She is, however, as smart and up-
to-date as she can be....A dazzling performance.
New York Review of Books
chic I've read.
The Seattle Times
The New York Times Book Review
Time Magazine (Best Books of 2004)
The Guardian (UK)
Financial Times (UK)
Case does enchant, certainly, but--more
important--the book admirably and resolutely
sees the world as it really is."
ratifies every dream one might have of a tropical
landscape....She is, however, as smart and up-
to-date as she can be....A dazzling
Case does enchant, certainly, butmore importantthe book admirably and resolutely sees the world as it really is."
William Boyd, New York Times Book Review
"Hypnotic, lush and calmly observant."Chris Lehmann, Washington Post Book World
"Comic, tragic, haunting, hallucinatory and elusive, but vivid and exact, this is a brilliant book by a brilliant writer."
Karen Joy Fowler (author of "The Jane Austen Book Club")
Michelle de Kretser's The Hamilton Case
ratifies every dream one might have of a tropical landscape....She is, however, as smart and up-
to-date as she can be....A dazzling performance."Anita Desai, New York Review of Books
An elegant, seductive...work of art."Laura Miller, Salon.com
"One of the best arguments against false exotic chic I've read."Sudip Bose, Washington Times
"The Lost Dog is an uncompromisingly literary (and literate) book: ferociously intelligent, highbrow, allusive and unflinching....There are all kinds of terrors lurking within the heart of the bookthese are for the reader to discoverbut the one that is most palpable is the undeniable fact that this book is touched, like Rilke's "terrible angel," by the terror of greatness."Neel Mukherjee, Time
"Engrossing. . .De Kretser confidently marshals her reader back and forth through the book's complex flashback structure, keeping us in suspense even as we read simply for the pleasure of her prose. . . . De Kretser knows when to explain, and when to leave us deliciously wondering."Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
"More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. . .There is much here that dazzles. . . .De Kretser's writing is as boldly beautiful as ever."Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review
"A nuanced portrait of a man in his time. The novel, like Tom, is multicultural, intelligent, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding."Andrea Kempf, Library Journal
"An intimate and subtle look at Tom Loxley, a well-intentioned but solipsistic Henry James scholar and childless divorcé, as he searches for his missing dog in the Australian bush.... Things progress rapidly, with a few unexpected turns thrown in as Tom and Nelly get together, the murky circumstances surrounding Felix's disappearance are (somewhat) cleared up and the matter of the missing dog is settled. De Kretser's unadorned, direct sentences illustrate her characters' flaws and desires, and she does an admirable job of illuminating how life and art overlap in the 21st century."Publishers Weekly
"De Kretser's daring willingness to let suspense accrue without promising resolution is a worthy echo of Henry James's brilliance."Dara Horn, Washington Post
"That rare treasure, a perfect novel...As the plot grows darker and more complex, de Kretser's prose gleams with sinister beauty. Her sentences sparkle like precious things."Lev Grossman, Time Magazine (Best Books of 2004)
"Ruminative and roving in form, an intense, immaculate...novel."Kirkus Reviews
"A wonderful tale of obsession, art, death, loss, human failure, and past and present loves. One of Australia's best contemporary writers."Harper's Bazaar (Australia)
"De Kretser's displaced and subtle characters are genuinely interesting, and her writing is emotionally accurate...a fine novel."Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian (UK)
"This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story."A.S. Byatt, Financial Times (UK)
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The Lost Dog
By Michelle de Kretser Little, Brown and Company
Copyright © 2007 Michelle de Kretser
All right reserved.
Afterward, Tom would remember paddocks stroked with light. He would remember the spotted trunks of gum trees, the dog arching past to sniff along the fence.
He cleaned his teeth at the tap on the water tank. The house in the bush had no running water, no electricity. It was only sporadically inhabited and had grown grimy with neglect. But Tom, spitting into the luxuriant weeds by the tap that November morning, thought, Light, air, space, silence. The Benedictine luxuries.
He placed his toothpaste and brush on a log at the foot of the steps; and later forgot where he had left them. Night would send him blundering about a room where his flashlight swung across the wall, and what he could find and what he needed were not the same thing.
On the kitchen table, beside Tom's laptop, was the printout of his book, Meddlesome Ghosts: Henry James and the Uncanny. He remembered the elation he had felt the previous evening, drafting the final paragraph; the impression that he had nailed it all down at last. It was to this end that he had rented Nelly Zhang's house for four days, days in which he had written fluently and with conviction, to his surprise, because he was in the habit of proceeding hesitantly, and the book hadbeen years in the making.
He owed this small triumph to Nelly, who had said, "It's what you need. No distractions, and you won't have to worry about kennels."
This evidence of her concern had moved Tom. At the same time, he thought, She wants the money. The web of their relations was shot through with these ambivalences, shade and bright twined with such cunning that their pattern never settled.
His jacket hung on the back of a chair. He put it on, then paused: shuffled pages, squared off the stack of paper, touched what he had accomplished. James's dictum caught his eye: Experience is never limited, and it is never complete.
When Tom called, raising his voice, the dog went on nosing through leaves and damp grass. It was their last morning there; the territory was no longer new. Yet whenever the dog was allowed outside, he would race to the far end of the yard and start working his way along the fence. Instinct, deepened over centuries, compelled him to check boundaries, drew him to the edges of knowledge.
Afterward, Tom would remember the dog ignoring him and the spurt of impatience he had felt. The dog had to be walked and the house packed up before the long drive back to the city. He was keen to get moving while the weather held. So he didn't pat the dog's soft head when he strode to the fence and reached for him.
The dog was standing still, one forepaw raised, listening.
Tea-colored puddles sprawled on the track. A cockatoo flying up from a sapling dislodged a rhinestone spray. It was a wet spring even in the city, and in these green hills, it rained and rained.
The dog's paw-pads were shining jet. He sniffed, and sneezed, and plunged into dithering grass. A twenty-foot rope kept him from farmland and forest while affording him greater freedom than his lead.
The man picking his way through rutted mud at the other end of the rope disliked the cold. Tom Loxley had spent two-thirds of his life in a cool southern city. But his childhood had been measured in monsoons, and the first windows he knew had contained the Arabian Sea. Free hand shoved deep in his pocket, he held himself tight against the morning.
Light rubbed itself over the paddocks. It struck silver from the cockatoo and splintered the windshield of a toy truck threading up the mountain where trees went down to steel. But what Tom took from the scene was the thrust and weight of leaves, the season's green upswinging. Over time, his eye had grown accustomed to the bleached pigments of the continent where he had made his life. But love takes shape before we know it. On a damp, plumed coast in India, Tom's first encounter with landscape had been dense with leaves. A faultless place for him would always be a green one.
He glanced back at Nelly's house. Afterward, he would remember his sense that everything ? the pepper tree by the gate, the sloping driveway, the broad blue sky itself ? was holding its breath, gathered to the moment. The impression was forceful, but Tom's thoughts were busy with Nelly as he had once seen her: astride a sunny wall in the suburb where they both lived, a striped cat pouring himself through her arms.
In the corner of his eye, something blurred. At the same time, the rope skidded through his fingers. His head snapped around to see gray fur moving fast, and the dog in pursuit, the end to which sinew and nerve and tissue had always been building.
Tom swooped for the rope and clawed at air. On the hillside above the track, the dog was swallowed by leaves.
Birdsong and eucalyptus air.
A lean white dog, rust-splotched, springing up a bank. Things Tom Loxley would remember.
* * *
It had begun, seven months earlier, with a painting.
April becalmed in hazy, slanted light. Tom clipped on the dog's lead, and they left his flat to walk in streets where houses were packed like wheat. Windows were turning yellow. Dahlias showed off like sunsets. On an autumn evening in the city, Tom looked sideways at other people's lives.
At a gallery he hadn't entered in the four years since his wife left, long sash windows had been pushed up; there were smokers on the terraces with glasses in their hands. Tom tied the dog to the garden side of the ornate iron railings and went up the steps.
A group show: four young artists. Their friends and relatives were congratulatory and numerous in the two rooms on the ground floor. Tom drank cold wine and looked at paintings. They seemed unremarkable, but he knew enough to know he couldn't tell.
From the street it had seemed that there were fewer people upstairs. He had his glass refilled by a pierced girl with ruffles of hair parted low on the side, and started up the stairs. But something made him glance back. She was looking up at him, her face gleaming and amused; and he realized, with a little lurch of perception, that she was a boy.
The second-floor room that ran the width of the building contained work unrelated to the exhibition below. A well-fleshed man stood in front of a painting, blocking it from view.
"Eddie's still channeling Peter, it seems." He had a thin, carrying voice. A dark boy standing beside him snickered.
On the short wall opposite the door was an almost abstract landscape at which Tom looked for four or five minutes, a long time. Then he went out onto the balcony and saw a couple leaving the gallery stop to fondle the dog's floppy ears. The word Beefmaster passed on the side of a van.
When Tom stepped back through the floor-length window, the large man was in the center of the room. More people had attached themselves to his group. He gazed out over their heads; his face was round and turnip-white. The pallor made his eyes, which were very dark, appear hollow. He murmured as Tom passed. There was a small explosion of laughter.
Tom gulped wine in front of the picture opposite the door. His scalp hummed. He thought, I am the wrong kind of thing. He thought, I don't belong here. The adverb having a wide application.
By an act of will, he directed his attention to the landscape in front of him. His formal training in Art History was limited to two undergraduate years. They had left him a vocabulary, formal strategies for thinking about images. He believed himself to possess a set of basic analytical tools for operating upon a work of art.
Faced with this picture, he thought only, How beautiful. And relived, at once, the frustration that had edged his youthful efforts, shadowing the pleasure he took in looking at art. Pictures belong to the world of things. They cannot be contained in language. Tom was still susceptible to their immanent hostility. It had persuaded him, as a student, to concentrate on literature.
There he was at home in the medium. For all their shifting play, narratives did not exceed his grasp. He paid them the tribute of lucid investigation, and they unfolded before him.
An English voice said, "Isn't it completely wonderful?"
A milky woman with crimson pigtails was smiling down at him. "I was sure it was you." She went up on her toes; she was wearing beaded mesh slippers. Up and down she went again, holding out her hand.
The rocking was a boon. It identified a party in the summer; a long woman rising and falling. "We met at Esther's, didn't we?" Tom took her cool, boneless fingers. "I'm sorry, I don't remember ...?"
"Imogen Halliday. But everyone just says? Mogs.'"
Mogs was wearing a kimono fashioned from what might have been burlap, slashed here and there to show a silky green undergarment. She said, "How is Esther? I've been simply swamped."
"I've been out of touch myself."
Two years earlier, Tom Loxley and Esther Kade had been deputed by their respective university departments, Textual Studies and Art History, to attend a weekend conference on Multimedia and Interactive Teaching Strategies. Under the circumstances, alcohol and sex had seemed no more than survival mechanisms. Later both regretted the affair, which outlived the conference by only an awkward encounter or two. But Esther now felt obliged to invite Tom to her parties to show there were no hard feelings; for the same reason, he felt obliged to go.
Interactive strategies, he thought.
"Isn't life mad? But I adore working here." Mogs swayed above him, waving a hand on which a green jewel shone.
Christ, thought Tom. It's real.
Mogs was, in her own way, catching.
"I was looking at you: you were transfixed. Isn't she a marvel?" The slippers rose and fell. "Nelly Zhang," said Mogs's soft English voice.
Tom nodded. He had read the name, which meant nothing to him, on the list he had picked up at the door. And noted that the picture was not for sale.
"Carson's known her forever. Since before ... you know, everything. She's over there with him, actually. In the black ... tunic, I think you'd say."
Tom turned his head and saw a woman in a loose, dark dress that fell to midcalf. Red beads about her neck, her twisted hair secured with a scarlet crayon.
"Really exciting. A painting. An early work, of course. She was barely out of art school. From Carson's own collection. Such a privilege just to see it now that Nelly only shows photographs of her work."
Mogs was all right. But Tom wished she would go away. He wanted to be left alone with the picture.
Outside the gallery, a spotlight fell across a strip of grass where Nelly Zhang squatted, scratching the dog's chest.
"Hail, dog," she said. "You speckled beast." She peered at his name tag. Her sooty fringe made an almost shocking line against her powdered skin.
The dog wagged his tail. His good looks habitually elicited caresses, tidbits. Experience had taught him confidence in his ability to charm.
Nelly stood up. Tom was not a tall man, but her head was scarcely higher than his shoulder.
She said, "Lovely dog."
He remembered that his wife used to refer to the dog as a chick magnet.
Nelly was lighting a thin cigarette. The pungency of cloves and behind it-Tom's sense of smell was acute-a bodily aroma. The dog tilted his spotted muzzle and sniffed. Tom bent to untie his leash.
"That looks professional."
"Just a quick-release tie."
"A man who knows his knots. So much rarer than one who knows the ropes."
He didn't say, I was lonely growing up.
He didn't say, String is cheap.
* * *
But it might have begun long, long before that evening in Carson Posner's gallery. It might have been historical.
War took an Englishman called Arthur Loxley to the East and in time returned him with two medals and a shattered knee to ruined Coventry. His mother had been killed in the first raid; to his father he had never had much to say. A trio of sisters inspected him as if their free trial period might expire and leave them stuck with him forever. At some point each took him aside to ask what he had brought her from the Orient. Their blue eyes glittered with the understanding that the world had been made safe for the business of acquisition.
He was twenty-six, and his knee ached all through the winter. But the map was still stained pink. Pink people could move about it as they pleased, could rule a line on it and bring nations into being. Arthur returned to India, where that kind of thing was causing a commotion. He paid no attention to it, having had his fill of history. What he was after, then and for the rest of his life, was a bolt-hole, with drink thrown in. There was also the memory of a twenty-four-hour leave he had spent in the whorehouses of Bombay. A Javanese half-caste with spongy golden thighs was instructing him in the art of cunnilingus when boots thundered past in the street and a Glaswegian voice bellowed that Rangoon had fallen. Thereafter, news of defeat would always induce in him a mild erotic stir.
Having drifted down the Malabar Coast, he fetched up in Mangalore, where he was taken on as an inventory clerk by Mr. Ashok Lal, an exporter of cashew nuts with a godown in the port. When Arthur looked up from his ledger, boats rocked on green water.
He rediscovered, with gratitude, the room India granted to casual human theater. It was there, on every street: in garlanded Ganesh affixed to a radiator grille, in a scabby, naked toddler with liquid jewels at his nostrils, in the man who, possessing no legs, propelled himself on a wheeled plank, advancing on Arthur with a terrible smile. It was not that Arthur idealized the place, for he was a kind man and the daily spectacle was often cruel. But he relished the friendly attention paid here to comedy and tragedy alike, a willingness to be entertained, amused, horrified, that he recognized as a form of thanksgiving for the faceted world.
And so, from modest pleasures, Arthur fashioned a happy life. The locally distilled whiskey was cheap, the beer cheaper. He ate deviled prawns every Sunday. Once a month he visited a former maharani who had a house with turquoise shutters in the shadow of the cathedral, and five exquisitely skilled girls.
An Indian who had been with the firm for eighteen months was promoted over Arthur, whose congratulations were sincere. He was as indifferent to distinctions of race as to his own advancement. He drank steadily, sometimes fabulously, but always arrived at his desk sober.
Contentment, being rare, never fails to attract attention. Arthur Loxley, with his veined cheeks and drunkard's careful gait, was increasingly in the thoughts of a beautiful woman. Iris de Souza's father had informed her at the age of six that she was to marry an Englishman, and neither of them had ever lost sight of that goal. Iris's skin was fair, her face ravishing; many a pretty Eurasian was let down by toothpick legs, but Iris's calves were shapely. Her mother, a handsome crow, had had the good sense to die young. Her father ... But it would take a separate volume to explore the intricate self-loathing of this man, who despised in others the inadequacies that crawled in his own murk. He was an umbrella, tightly furled. Springing open, he might gouge flesh from your fingers. His rages were unpredictable and inconsistent. Iris acquired early the important female attribute of fear.
Fear, crouched always like an imp under her ribs, leaped out on her thirty-third birthday. She remained in front of the mirror, fingering the treacherous silver thread coiling through her hair. She could still pass for twenty-four, but that was hardly the point.
Next door the Ho baby was crying.
It was the war, thought Iris, the war had ruined everything, mixed everything up. It was the mixing she had loved, at the time. In the WVS she had rolled bandages and mixed with English people. A girl called Babs-a new style of girl, fresh from England-was kind to the Eurasian volunteers. It was rumored that Babs was a Communist. Iris was able to overlook this-also the way Babs wasted time conversing with tonga drivers, also Babs's blond mustache-because Babs took a shine to her. There were invitations to tea, the loan of a monograph on shanty dwellers.
In April Babs was offered the use, for a week, of a tin-roofed out-bungalow on a tea garden in the Nilgiris. It stood on the far side of the valley from the manager's house; his assistants had gone to the war and left their bungalow vacant. Unfortunately, Babs had seen fit to invite two Indian sisters as well, the up-to-date kind who had opinions. Even the discovery that the Guptas were connoisseurs of detective fiction could not redeem them in Iris's view. With their homespun saris and dog-eared Agatha Christies, they had a disturbingly ambiguous air.
Excerpted from The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser Copyright © 2007 by Michelle de Kretser. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
elusive, but vivid and exact, this is a brilliant
book by a brilliant writer.
Meet the Author
Michelle de Kretser is a Sri Lankan who has lived in Australia since 1972. Her previous book, The Hamilton Case, received the Commonwealth Writers Prize (SE Asia and Pacific) and the Society of Authors' (U.K.) Encore Award for best second novel of the year. It was also first runner-up 2004 for Barnes&Noble's Discover Award in Fiction and a New York TimesNotable Book. THE LOST DOG is her third novel.
- Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
- Date of Birth:
- November 11, 1957
- Place of Birth:
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- B.A. (Hons), 1979; Maîtrise-ès-lettres, 1982
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