The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman

John Tesarsch

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman
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The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman

John Tesarsch

When their reclusive father, Henry, shoots himself, the lives of three brilliant and unconventional siblings are upended. His daughter Eleanor finds a will: Henry has left his entire estate to a mystery woman. Hiding this from her brother and sister, Eleanor sets out to uncover the confronting truth about her father’s past.

Henry, though, isn’t the only Hoffman with secrets. As his children fall out over their inheritance, they learn things about each other they could never even have imagined.

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffman is a story of love, loss and survival. Its subjects are those that affect us all: family conflict, guilt and redemption, and how trauma resonates across generations.

Review

When Henry Hoffman dies unexpectedly his children are forced to execute a will they didn’t know existed. There’s some prime Yarra Valley real estate at stake and unexpected beneficiaries. Few families are immune to the grubby battle that invariably accompanies a contested will and the Hoffmans are no exception.

Henry’s untimely death leads to a forensic excavation of his past, casting doubt on his testamentary capacity and unlocking a secret history that stuns and fractures his family, unearthing a legacy of betrayal, suspicion and self-doubt between the siblings. When a cryptic second will appears, socially awkward academic Eleanor, anxious pianist Sarah, and Robbie, the black sheep with a talent for big dreams and bad investments, begin to wonder if they knew their father at all. Tesarsch’s own obsessions, music and law, are deeply resonant in this engrossing family saga that explores our struggle to balance both reason and passion in our lives. Like in his first novel, The Philanthropist, death becomes a starting point to reexamine life.

Told from multiple points of view, the plot roves across three continents, from Melbourne during the Rudd era, to San Francisco, and back in time to Vienna during the German occupation, where a tragic and compelling love story unfolds.

Henry emerges as a hard but decent man who devoted his life to solving a mathematical puzzle, echoing the novel’s preoccupation with ideas of value: personal, moral and material. Tesarsch stealthily dissects his character’s scruples with the expertise of a barrister cross-examining his witnesses. Melbourne itself is portrayed as a city busily ignoring its moral compass.

Although never prescriptive, Tesarsch explores the notion that we are only truly alive when taking risks and living according to our deepest moral values. Readers are left to contemplate the brutal realities of ageing in an economy increasingly driven by selfishness over goodness.


Sally Keighery is a freelance reviewer.

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