Be prepared to get trapped right from the first page. Barbara is a genius.
The time is 1995, but everybody is linked by their past. Brilliant Australian Caroline can command everyone except her own ghoulish mother, which means that things aren’t easy for Josh and Zoe, her husband and twelve-year-old daughter. Josh has bizarre origins in a South African mining town, but now teaches mime in Bristol. Zoe reads girls’ ballet books and longs for ballet lessons; a thing denied her until, on a school French exchange, she meets a runaway boy in a woodland hut. Meanwhile, on the east coast of Africa, Hattie Thomas, Josh’s first love, has taken to writing girls’ ballet books from the turret of her fabulous house – that’s when she can carve out the space between the forceful presence of Herman and her crosspatch daughter Cat who, after some illicit snooping, is secretly planning a make-or-break essay on mask dancers in Mali. Hattie wakes from a dream of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and asks herself about the composer, ‘Do his glasses look sexy?’ His glasses are just like Josh’s glasses from two decades earlier. From far and wide, they are all drawn together; drawn to Jack’s place. Or is he Jacques? Or Giacomo? Beautiful, mysterious Jack, the one-time backyard housemaid’s child who, having journeyed via Mozambique and Senegal to Milan, is back exactly where he started – only not for long. In its mix of people from different spheres, the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.