John Tesarsch – sophisticated and uplifting

March 3, 2016 at 12:17 am | Posted in Australian novels, Books, Writing | 1 Comment
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John Tesarsch's brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s brilliant novel

John Tesarsch’s The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann (Affirm Press, 2014) is a masterpiece. I’ve reviewed a lot of books in the past twenty plus years, (in local magazines and 85 for The Canberra Times, and more recently in this blog) but I have never described a novel like that. This one deserves it. I simply could not put it down and I am in awe of the author’s mastery of the form.

The novel deals with the theme of death as a catalyst for examining life – the past life, in this case with its extraordinary secrets, and life in the present for the survivors, who include the three children of Henry Hoffmann. When Henry unexpectedly dies they must deal with his idiosyncratic will.

The eldest of Henry’s progeny, Eleanor, very bright like her father, is teaching at a boys’ school and trying to find the time to do her PhD. Sarah used to be a concert pianist and now simply immerses herself in her music, after suffering debilitating stage fright. Robbie is the black sheep whose real estate deals and secrecy have led him into financial woes and made his wife Carla very unhappy.

Tesarsch’s first novel The Philanthropist (Sleepers, 2010), also a story of family secrets, was very readable and competent but this second one is lifted to another level. With its engaging and increasingly compelling plot The Last Will and Testament of Henry Hoffmann moves through the settings of Melbourne and to its north during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, to Vienna during World War II and to contemporary San Francisco. The plot moves at a fast pace while simultaneously we gain a deeper knowledge of the characters.

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