After a long career as a successful restaurateur, Kristófer, the narrator of Olaf Olafsson's novel "Touch," has decided to call it quits. The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on his Reykjavík, Iceland, business, and at 75, he figures he's better off cutting his losses.

But his planned retirement is upended when he gets a Facebook friend request from Miko, a Japanese-British woman he was in love with 50 years ago and hasn't heard from since. The resulting journeys he takes — one into the past, one in the present — form the basis for this understated, enchanting novel.

Kristófer and Miko had had an intense, secret relationship decades previously in London — after dropping out of college, Kristófer took a job as a dishwasher in Miko's father's restaurant. Now Miko writes that she has become ill with the coronavirus, and Kristófer makes an impulsive decision to visit her in Hiroshima, where she moved after she and her father left London suddenly: "I convinced myself I would never find peace of mind if I didn't go to her."

Kristófer's life is lonely, though he doesn't quite admit it. His wife passed away years ago; his only family is a brother whom he can't stand and a stepdaughter whose "undisguised demandingness and bossiness bordering on the pathological" rub him the wrong way.

As the narrative progresses, Kristófer looks back on his days with Miko, all the while traveling to Japan in hopes of a reunion. But the reader learns early on that he might not be the most accurate reporter of his own life — his doctor suspects he has a condition that's causing him to lose his memory, although Kristófer, ever stubborn, remains skeptical.

The novel ends gracefully, with a note of unsure sweetness that's refreshingly unforced. It's emblematic of one of Olafsson's considerable strengths as a writer: His prose is both plainspoken and elegant; it's a perfect fit for the character of Kristófer, who's both intelligent and unpretentious.

And what a perfectly drawn character he is, even if he's hard to get to know. Olafsson contrasts his present-day reticence with the younger version of him — not a font of loquaciousness, to be sure, but perhaps a bit less guarded, less cranky.

The concept of memory is at the heart of "Touch," and Olafsson explores it beautifully. The scenes set in the past are realistic, not sepia-toned and nostalgic, and Kristófer's struggles with the possible loss of his memory are rendered quite well. It doesn't take long for the reader to wonder how much of what Kristófer relates is the truth — not because he's deceptive, but because his mind seems to be receding, if gently. He might not be giving us the whole story, it's true, but he might not know the whole story himself.

This is a quiet novel, but its narrative restraint doesn't compromise its incredible power. Olafsson is writing at the top of his game here — any reader with a taste for novels that gently explore the internal world will find much to love in this remarkable book.

Michael Schaub is a writer in Texas.

By: Olaf Olafsson.
Publisher: Ecco, 272 pages, $28.99.