Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

An art nouveau style pendant, a peacock in hues of purple, green and white, is central to Love and Treasure, the latest novel by Ayelet Waldman. This simple device, a piece of jewellery, acts to carry the story backwards and forwards in time. Beginning in Maine in 2013, the novel traverses time and place to Salzburg in the mid-1940s, Budapest and Israel in 2013, then Budapest again in 1913 and New York in 1948.

Love and Treasure opens with Jack Wiseman and his daughter, Natalie, meeting in Maine: Jack is nearing the end of his life, and Natalie, fresh from a marriage separation, arrives to look after her dying parent. Waldman adeptly explores Jack’s younger life as an army lieutenant guarding The Gold Train in Salzburg, examining the after-effects of the Holocaust with a precision akin to a surgeon wielding a scalpel, while displaying a deft and nuanced gift for character and story.

While employing the pendant as a device to move between timeframes risks becoming contrived, it is utilised with subtlety and skill here, as Waldman assuredly moves her novel in unexpected directions. At times a love story, and sometimes even a thriller, Love and Treasure reads like a document of the Holocaust, while also delving into the art world and embarking on an exploration of suffrage and the plight of women in the early twentieth century.

Love and Treasure most successfully investigates what it means to be human. Waldman’s somewhat playful take on Freudian analysis via Dr Zobel’s couch is a delight to read, often disturbing and sometimes downright scary. There are no off-notes in this unpredictable and remarkable novel. Waldman is a pleasing new discovery for this reviewer and I’ll be looking to read much more of her work.

Deborah Crabtree is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.