November 16th, 2008


What Was Lost

I’ve been very picky with my reading this month, finding it hard to settle to anything. A book had to be very light and amusing or really grab me. Then, bingo! What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn hit the spot: it’s brilliant. The narrative is in four sections, alternating between the events of 1987 and those of 2003/4. The action revolves around Green Oaks, a sort of prototype Bluewater shopping centre *shudders* which has replaced an industrial site in an unspecified location, probably somewhere in the Midlands.

In part one we meet Kate Meaney, a child almost alone in the world but bright and obsessed with detection; she practises her skills around the shopping centre. One soon becomes very fond of Kate and fearful for her. The narrative then moves forward to Carl, a security guard at Green Oaks and Lisa, duty manager at Your Music. Carl sees the figure of a child on the security cameras he monitors; the problem is, no one else can see her. He and Lisa get together and several back stories turn out to be connected. I was dreading an ambivalent ending but we do find out what happened to Kate, with some genuine surprises along the way.

I found the book gripping from page one with its spot-on descriptions of a certain sort of life in the modern world and the horrors of the shopping mall, all gloss and welcome on the outside, all sinister service corridors and filth behind the scenes. I felt the ratio was a little too much record store to too little Kate but I’m guessing the author had a lot to get off her chest on the subject. It’s rather reminiscent of Kate Atkinson, which is a recommendation by me and is a remarkable first novel.