The poet Lavinia Greenlaw’s third novel opens enticingly with a dream-like scenario, a woman fleeing down a long corridor from someone she has recognised as a potential lover, whom she desires and dreads. They have passed through a door together, have exchanged conversation and discovered a shared interest in small objects. Now they are apart, but time will bring them back together. Iris is a museum conservator; her task is ‘to protect objects and to strengthen them without alteration while remaining aware that, in practice, this is something that cannot be done’. These objects include a merman, a cloud mirror and a jealousy glass, as well as larger locomotives, rockets and dentist’s chairs. Iris is also struggling to repair her family, consisting of an estranged husband with multiple sclerosis and two young daughters. Constantly she asks herself what it means to restore something when you can never make it new. Iris turns away from everyone and from herself, creating a mesh of wearisome abstraction. Iris is a pain in the neck.
Raif is recently widowed, profoundly grief-stricken and bewildered. He has lost his place in the scheme of things and he does not know who he should now be. He teaches history of science at a city university and is the author of a very dull book about absence