A vividly imagined novel from award-winning Joanna Scott. In the mid-1950s, an American family travels to an island off the coast of Italy to make a fortune in gemstones.
Napoleonic history, geology and a father's folly are woven together in this captivating novel by Scott (The Manikin; Make Believe). In 1956, extravagant, debt-ridden Murray Murdoch takes his wife and four young sons on a vacation to Elba, where he becomes convinced that he can profit from the island's abundant deposits of semiprecious gems. When the summer comes to an end and Murray still hasn't found the valuable tourmaline that he's looking for, the Murdochs decide to postpone their departure indefinitely. Their idyllic existence is shattered when a mysterious local girl goes missing and the community begins to suspect that the "investor from the United States" is somehow involved. The story is told by Ollie, the youngest of the four boys, who was five when the family arrived on the island and is 50 now. His memories are shaded by both a child's imagination and an adult's nostalgia, which allows Scott to explore some of the less straightforward aspects of the story. Entranced by the island's beauty, the boys communicate without speaking, and their mother, Claire, becomes uncharacteristically dreamy and distant. Murray's hunt for treasure grows increasingly desperate and futile, and finally, in an attempt to escape his responsibilities, he disappears on a three-day drinking binge. A few of Scott's departures from traditional narrative are tiresome, especially the pages devoted to the inner thoughts of an elderly British historian as he dies, but details of Elba's rich history, and particularly of Napoleon's exile there, are artfully woven into the narrative. This is an absorbing picture of a family rediscovering themselves in a foreign land.