Theroux follows up his gently charming, and well-received debut, A Stranger in the Earth, with another witty and touching slim novel. As in his first book, the story revolves around a man starting a new life in a new place. Here, Damien March is a thirtysomething American who's lived most of his life in England and now works as a nightshift drone for the BBC. His Uncle Patrick, a prize-winning author turned odd recluse, stuns the family by leaving his New England home and its content to Damien, whom he hasn't seen since he was a child. The home sits on the fictional island of Ionia, a kind of Martha's Vineyardish place off of Cape Cod. The bequest is conditional on Damien living in the house, and so he makes the momentous decision to leave his dead-end life in London and head to America to live in the house for the summer.
As he gets accustomed to island life, his deaf neighbors, and living in a house filled with random bric-a-brac, he also muses on his upbringing, his family history, and the meaning of family in general. Mostly he ponders the question of who his uncle was and why his writings grew increasingly bizarre, why he sequestered himself on the island, and why Damien's father and Uncle Patrick had an odd relationship. These internal musings are interrupted by various odd occurrences, such as the disappearances of some of Uncle Patrick's files, a later burglary, and the general oddities of life on the island. Then, about 2/3 of the way into the book, Damien discovers a manuscript of his uncle's called "The Confession of Mycroft Holmes." It's a pastiche of sorts, based on Sherlock Holmes's enigmatic elder brother. The story itself is faithfully rendered in faux-Victorian prose, and characters in it appear to parallel some on the island. Damien starts to think there's a connection between the story and his uncle's odd life, and the investigation leads to a surprising (to him, if not to the reader) discovery. The book ends rather disappointingly abruptly after this revelation, but is nonetheless extremely enjoyable. Lightly written in a musing tone, and dolloped with sly wit, Theroux's second book makes the reader anxious for more. In a time when accolades are mainly gathered by sprawlingly undisciplined tomes like The Poisonwood Bible and The Blind Assassin, Theroux's slim work proves that yes, sometimes less is more.