The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

Erich Mayer

This is a novel of subtle shades and nuances, overflowing with references to literature, art and cinema published by text Publishing.
The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

Book cover image of The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones via text Publishing.

There is a statue of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure in Chamonix, in south-eastern France. Among Saussure’s many inventions is the cyanometer, a device used to estimate the shade of blue of the sky. Noah Glass’s daughter, Evie, knew all about this man when her brother Martin asked her about him. Evie is a very  talented person – a former academic philosopher endowed with an exceptional memory – but eschews a conventional career. Martin is a gifted and commercially successful artist, if somewhat temperamental.

Like the varying colours of the sky measured by the cyanometer, this is a novel of subtle shades and nuances, overflowing with references to literature, art and cinema.

It is in part the story of four generations of the Glass family. Joshua Glass was a returned serviceman, doctor and missionary who worked in a leper colony. He was a devout and dedicated man with no time for his own children. His son, Noah, who lends his name to the book, was an art historian who had two post-retirement love affairs – an intellectual affair with the painter Caravaggio, and a physical affair with a woman he meets in Palermo. Noah had a good relationship with his children who deeply mourn his death. And Martin has a loving relationship with his young Deaf daughter.

The novel is also a detective story about a stolen sculpture created by Vincenzo Ragusa, a little-known Palermo artist. Although Noah is already dead, the police consider him a suspect. But Noah’s children feel it inconceivable that their father could have been involved in an art theft as such an action would have been completely out of character; besides, their father had never shown an interest in Ragusa’s work. Nonetheless, Martin travels to Palermo to investigate.

Glimpses of Sicilian life are described through both Noah and Martin’s eyes. Differences in culture are treated with delicacy and wry humour, such as this definition of ‘Australianness’ as ‘a condition of ignorance and innocence, corrupted by good luck’. But there are also hints of the sinister undercurrent of the Sicilian mafia.

While Martin is in Palermo, Evie is living in her late father’s Sydney apartment. She and Martin communicate via Skype although he has little to report about what his father was doing in Palermo. As they say in Sicily of people who find nothing, ‘you’ve made another hole in the water’.

Evie tells Martin she has applied for a job advertised as ‘Assistant wanted for blind movie viewer. Descriptive audio. Must be movie enthusiast’. This job leads to a charming love affair with Evie’s employer, which acts as a counterpoint to her father’s love story. 

Noah instilled a love of art in his children. When they were young he took them to art galleries and showed them what to look for in a painting. So it is only natural that their conversations should include descriptions of paintings apposite to the occasion. These colourful depictions make the readers themselves long to see the paintings referenced throughout the novel.

Gail Jones has written quite a few excellent novels. This one is certainly among her best and is both intellectually stimulating and engrossing.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Death of Noah Glass
by Gail Jones
text Publishing
Extent: 336pp
Format: Paperback
Text publication date: 2 April 2018
ISBN: 9781925603408

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog