Jack, a dying man, entrusts a peacock pendant to his granddaughter, charging her to return it to it’s owner. The book opens different windows on the pendant’s history: Jack’s attempt to give it to the woman he loves after recovering it from a train of confiscated Jewish goods after the war; his disappointed and divorced granddaughter teaming up with a dealer of valuable goods and their growing mutual attraction, and the psychologist whose attempts to help the outspoken young Magyar woman whose dangerous political escapades with her tiny, passionate friend provoke in him an unspoken love.
It is interesting that, like my last reviewed book The Goldfinch, a central theme to this novel is a treasure: a possession that captivates people’s hearts and minds. But in each strand of the story, here, the pendant is not the focus, serving as a mystery and connection that hovers on the edge of the humans whose stories are told. And it really, really worked! The three stories (with a short introductory section) are told separately and each as their own section, a little like in Cloud Atlas, but without returning ever to each one. I’d usually find it disappointing to be thrown from one place to another, but each story seemed complete enough as it is, despite endings that are not particularly finite.
And though the device meant that we were actually tracking the history of the pendant, it’s edging on the side of the plots meant that we were actually jumping into different incarnations of humans and of love. So the treasure is invested only with the importance that humans give it: it’s value is subjective – even to the author it is a device for the story rather than something of intrinsic value or even interest itself.
The individual characters and stories are themselves fascinating: we jump into diverse situations and worlds with their own features, interests, prejudices and peoples. From Jews heading for their homeland after the war to Freud and the stirring of feminism to the complexities of modern relationships the subject matter is vast – but the stories are skilfully linked together, with facts about the others being revealed throughout meaning that the book remains cohesive. It reveals points and perspectives on history that I’ve not heard of, drawing themes and people together in different parts of the world.
This is definitely recommended, well put together and easy to read book. Each section had it’s own charm, and I think I’ll probably even give it a re-read at some point. I like the place that the pendant holds: pulling everything together but essentially remaining what it is. A thing.
Again thanks to Bookbridgr and Two Roads for the review copy.