Waking one morning, a handful of disparate Londoners find themselves connected in ways they could never have dreamed - for each of them has had some aspect of their lives change radically without warning or explanation.
A reclusive old woman has lost the front of her house; an entire wall has simply disappeared. Another woman's sense of direction has vanished, resulting in long, lost walks through neighbourhoods she knows she once knew; a man "loses" his job - when he goes to the office one morning he finds his entire building has gone and any proof of his having been employed there with it.
Another chap, a musical genius, rises to play the piano, only to find the keys of his beloved grand are missing. And, in the most unusual of all these scenarios, a young woman goes to Heathrow to welcome her lover home from Argentina and is devastated when she fails to show. Refusing to leave the airport or believe she's been jilted, the brokenhearted woman waits and waits and, as she stands sentry, she slowly turns into a tree.
Described as a "magical fable", Janina Matthewson's first novel has a dash of The Crane Wife and a whiff of Andrew Kaufman. Strangest of all, none of the characters is as surprised as you'd expect following such freakish turns of events.
At times, it feels like a collection of short story characters have been cobbled together to make a novel, many of whom feel like refugees from short stories the author had never quite finished. But there are still plenty of engaging elements. I especially liked the actress-turned-surrogate mother carrying a baby for a homosexual couple. During the pregnancy she played her most challenging, harrowing role ever, leaving one of the fathers-to-be concerned that all that emoting might cross the placenta and damage the unborn baby. She is a mere cameo but quite a stand-out.
The most affecting character is surely the young boy who has moved to London from New Zealand. His English father has returned home following the death of the boy's mother in an earthquake.
The author, a New Zealander living in London, has acknowledged her homeland in the most heartfelt and truthful of all the characters, and the boy is forever looking for "some things" as his father fails increasingly to notice him.
With six main character strands, the story certainly becomes more satisfying when the various elements start to weave with each other, although don't expect the loose ends to tidily knot at the conclusion.
Matthewson chooses to leave the world in a mild state of disarray, which some readers will love and others will find frustrating.
Of Things Gone Astray isn't a demanding read and there's sure to be some sort of parable hidden inside this fruity fairy tale - something about having to lose things in order to find oneself perhaps - although, naturally, that's open to interpretation.
If you are the sort of reader who enjoys whimsical fantasy, you can make your own meaning.
• Elisabeth Easther is an Auckland writer.
Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson (Friday Project $27.99) Reviewed by