Tom's dog is missing in the bush. As Tom searches for the dog his mind explores sequences of events from his life and the life of his family. Michelle de Kretser has written a book about loss, love and aging with the themes interwoven in the account of the search for the lost dog, the declining health of Tom's mother and the mystery of Nelly's past life.
Tom's father, Arthur, went to India during the Second World War, married Iris de Souza and they had a son. After migrating to Australia Arthur died leaving his wife and son dependant on the reluctant charity of Arthur's sister. Tom escaped but his aging mother still lives with her sister-in-law.
Tom is an academic finishing a book on the ghosts in the writings of Henry James. His world is the world of literature but he finds himself entering a corner of the art world after meeting Nelly Zhang, an artist who paints pictures and then supposed destroys the artwork after photographing it and exhibiting the photographs in exhibitions.
While searching for the dog he remembers events relating to his family's life in India and in Australia. Increasingly the needs of his mother as her health fails require more of his time and cause him to reflect upon possible changes to his future lifestyle. Intrigued by and drawn to Nelly Tom also attempts find out the secrets of Nelly's past as he attempts to define his thoughts and feelings for her.
Although the book describes ten days in Tom's life it covers several lifetimes while Tom searches for who is and what he wants of his life while searching for his dog. This is a beautifully written book with the interwoven plots, including flash backs, encouraging the reader to want to know what happens next but also to engage in personal reflection.