, 2003 - Fiction
- 199 pages
The Nautilus, a strange building shaped like the chambered shell of the same name, was built in South London in the early 1930s. Designed on Modernist and Utopian principles, it was a haven for a floating community of cosmopolitan refugees, intellectuals and artists. Now, at the end of the century, only two of the original inhabitants still occupy their chambers -- Celeste Zylberstein, joint architect with her late husband of the Nautilus, and Francis Campion, an elderly poet. Gus Crabb, a dealer in bric-à-brac, is the only other resident until, to the Nautilus, like a hermit crab seeking a home, comes Rowena Snow. Of Indian/Scottish parentage, orphaned, without family or friends, Rowena is in search of her own Utopia -- or the Heligoland of her childhood imagination. Heligoland is Shena Mackay at her very best. Rowena, damaged but courageous, is a brilliant creation, and her path to a sort of contentment is both funny and moving. The other characters are at once utterly strange and entirely believable, and Shena Mackay's eye for the oddities of ordinary life is as sharp as ever. Her writing -- sentence by sentence -- is sublime, surprising, inimitable.