5 stars “As she stood on the deck of the ferry at Circular Quay, Evie was conscious of storing up things for future recollection. Here was the lustily gleaming harbour, the absurdly golden midday, and the bridge, swinging away like a door on brass hinges as the ferry executed a slow turn. Above was an infinity of blue-becoming-black reaching far into space, almost shocking after the grey security of Melbourne. The scale of things was all wrong, too lavish, too sunny, too geared to applause.”
The Death Of Noah Glass is the seventh novel by award-winning Australian author, Gail Jones. When sixty-seven-year-old art historian, Noah Glass is found face-down, fully clothed in the swimming pool of his Elizabeth Bay apartment block, the coroner rules it a heart attack. But the day after the funeral, his children are told that Noah was the suspect in an art theft. The Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Agency in Sicily have advised Sydney detective Frank Malone that a national treasure, a small bust of Eleonora Ragusa sculpted by Vincenzo Ragusa, has been stolen from a gallery in Palermo. Noah had returned from Sicily just four weeks previous.
But Martin and Evie are dismissive: their father’s field of interest was quattrocento painting; he had no interest in sculpture at all. While Evie is meant to be sorting out Noah’s apartment, Martin goes to Palermo to see what he can find out. But when he gets there, he is frustrated by his father’s Italian colleagues: absent, reticent, vague. And his artistic soul is soon distracted by what he sees around him.
“We have just endured, she thought, the funeral of our father and my brother is still as he was, negligent, self-centred, without a clue. He is still the cocksure adolescent bound for fame and glory, still contesting his father’s authority. They were so alike, father and son, that they loved each other in self-confirmation. The equation of what they were was a tangled knot.”
For both of them, their grief is ever present, and they are constantly reminded of their singular but loving upbringing by this good man, respected by all. They connect again, skyping to remind each other: “Martin still envied her canny poise, the way she made her own knowledge, sagely and systematically, always locating a hidden order. Their disorderly lives had needed this incongruity – her lists and his images, her calm, withholding quiet and his noisier rebellion. He saw it now, her aisles of mysterious space, mapped alphabetically step by step, while his gestures were rooms, broad openings on either side. Still, they fitted together; still, they were complements.”
Four narrative strands tell the story: Martin and Evie perspective detail events after Noah’s death, while Noah’s story of his stay in Sicily is supplemented by descriptions of significant life events from his childhood onwards. While there is certainly a mystery, this novel is very much character-driven, and the relationships between the siblings and their closeness to their father, shown in common memories and habits are the strength of the story.
The descriptions of the two cities (Sydney, Palermo) with which Jones suffuses her text are highly evocative and show her captivation with these places. The depth of her research is apparent with the inclusion of information about art, about the theft of Italian artworks and about Western Australia’s leprosarium. Marvellous and moving, a superb read.