Jolie Hansen keeps a dressmaking shop in a small town near Zurich. But as she alters the clothing of her customers, mentally she lets out and takes in bits of their lives too – including that of Walter Fischbacher, who would be rather keen to share hers.
Her own life is neat, organised and desperately empty – she lives alone, her grown-up daughter has a high-flying job in Geneva, her mother is in a nursing home, her brothers and sisters have all gone their different ways – apart from her adored older brother Franz who, aged seventeen, went for a swim in the lake and never came back. His headstone in the cemetery marks an empty grave. But did he really drown?
As Jolie prepares to reunite all her family at a party for her parents’ eightieth birthdays, her quest to find out what happened to Franz gains momentum.
Waldis’s style is beautifully pared-down and gently humorous and her novel is a delight to read. Jolie does find Franz. But she herself and her development as a character remain centre-stage throughout.