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It's 1986 and Caddie Walker goes to an exhibition in her home town of Brisbane - an exhibition dedicated to the 1930s European-American writer Inga Karlson. The star exhibits are The Fragments, the few remaining pages of Inga Karlson's lost second novel. All the copies were destroyed by a fire in the publisher's warehouse; and reputedly the only two people to have read the novel, Inga and her publisher, died in the fire.

Caddie, named after the protagonist in Karlson's first novel, is surprised when she quotes a line from one of the fragments that a fellow visitor completes the line. Especially because the completion is not one of the fragments...

This is a mystery novel told in two timelines, Caddie's own hunt for the mystery woman from the exhibition and the story of Rachel Lehrer, a young woman who ran away from her grim family farm in America's midwest and into the arms of Inga Karlson. 

The twin narratives makes the novel a bit slow to take off but when it does, it is really well done. There are parallels between the two story lines: in each, the leading lady is caught between two competing suitors, there are power imbalances brought about by wealth and status. There are stories 0f mundane work (bookselling, typesetting, waitressing) set against the prestige of academia and publishing. And both story lines have a secret at their heart.

The ending - which I did not see coming - was one to set my hairs on end. Truly, it was very moving. 

I have read Toni Jordan's work before and she is a really great storyteller. Easy to read, but complex in the range of ideas that bubble up to - or just under - the surface. I see that her work is positioned as women's fiction, but it is so much more than that. I would encourage anyone - male or female - to read The Fragments and read more of Toni Jordan's back catalogue.

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