The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done by Sandra Newman
It's not easy for Chrysalis Moffat to tell the story of her life. The more closely she tries to set down the facts, the more she finds herself doubting them. Was it actually in Peru that her adoptive father found her? And was he really working for the CIA? Her father has been dead since she was ten, her mother has just succumbed to complications following plastic surgery, and her bad brother Eddie is travelling the world. With so many unanswered questions echoing round the sprawling Californian mansion that was once the Moffat home, Chrysalis decides that it's safer to live under her bed. But then the prodigal Eddie returns to claim his inheritance. In the family house he sees the perfect headquarters for a school of Tibetan Buddhism and, to help realise his plan, he has in tow the Scottish miracle-worker and trainee guru, Ralph. As the pair fleece credulous Californians of their cash, Chrysalis is drawn into Ralph's strange and compelling world: a realm of mind-blowing coincidences, obsessive gambling and mysterious siblings. Families rarely come as dysfunctional as this, and first novels rarely as clever. Sandra Newman has a marksman's skill for quick-fire dialogue, a passion for byzantine plotting worthy of Laurence Sterne, and a wicked sense of humour. But beneath the technical fireworks lies a brilliantly subtle understanding of human nature and our philosophical dilemmas. Is it Fate of Chance that dictates our lives? And who holds all the cards?