New Zealand, 1909. After weeks at sea the new minister, Jack Mackenzie, arrives from Scotland with his unhappy wife and children in tow. A keen naturalist, he is more enthralled by the botanical - and carnal - delights of Dunedin than in the wellbeing of his flock. In London, eighty years later, Jack Mackenzie's descendants are middle-aged, searching for a way out of their loneliness. Olive, embittered with her loveless life, steals a baby from a crowded tube; William, distraught at the death of a pupil, abandons his job as headmaster and struggles to fill his empty days. Jay Pascal, a young New Zealand vagrant of mysterious parentage arrives in London, looking for a place where he might belong.
She writes like an angel wielding a scalpel, dissecting her characters with sublime, sharp-edged prose Guardian Her prose is flawlessly seductive and comic, confidently witty and sensual -- Julie Myerson Independent on Sunday She is a dazzling sort of a writer -- Rachel Cooke Shena Mackay notices a London that passes most writers by ... Her London is not a convenient backdrop - it is the capital itself, vividly and freshly set down in glancing detail -- Paul Bailey Independent A rich feast to be enjoyed page by page as Mackay, in often dazzling prose, describes the hilarious antics of bibulous writers or, with moving lyricism, those 'surprised by joy' Kirkus What a superbly imaginative writer she is ... Mackay takes large risks, but when they come off the result is breathtaking -- John Banville An adroit novel that incisively but compassionately deploys a dysfunctional family with familiar problems - isolation, failed hopes, mutual deceit - in comic configurations New York Times
Shena Mackay was born in Edinburgh in 1944. Her writing career began when she won a prize for a poem written when she was fourteen. Two novellas, Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger and Toddler on the Run were published before she was twenty. Redhill Rococo won the 1987 Fawcett Prize, Dunedin won a 1994 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Orchard on Fire was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize and, in 2003 Heligoland was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Southampton.