Friday, August 31, 2007

What Was Lost

First, Falstaff doesn't seem to like The Welsh Girl

Moving on to what I think of Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost:

There's really nothing I have to say about this book that hasn't been said already, far more eloquently too, but I liked the book enough to risk the repetition charges so here goes. (But I promise to keep it short)

In 1984, ten year old Kate Meaney opens her own detective agency Falcon Investigations and sets out to find crime in Green Oaks shopping center. Kate lives with her grandmother in a run down Birmingham neighborhood and goes to school with kids from the housing estates. She spends her summers and holidays at Green Oaks hoping to nab bank robbers. Kate is intelligent and diligent, and her attempts at being a real detective makes those of us who attempted this at fourteen feel very stupid. Kate thinks she has a prospective suspect, and the book moves on to 2003 to the lives of a security guard Kurt who sees Kate's ghost on CCTV, and Lisa, a duty manager at a music store whose brother was suspected of having something to do with Kate's disappearance. Green Oaks has grown too during these years, into the sprawling monster that we all know by different names - Schaumburg Mall, Oxford St, The Forum. Kurt and Lisa, miserable in their dead-end jobs and lives, get together to find the little girl gone missing nearly twenty years ago and the mystery is finally unraveled.

Life as seen through a ten year old's eyes is not exactly easy to do, but O'Flynn does this almost effortlessly - the first part of the book which deals with Kate's drab life and her adventures, or rather her search for exciting adventures is charming and utterly delightful to read. (Of course premium office supplies are very important to an effective investigator. Who among us has not been enamored by the stationery cupboards in school and in the stores and not deemed them essential for whatever it is that we were doing right then?) The professionalism that Kate displays in her investigative work is exemplary, something that only a precocious ten year old is capable of, and something which will make you fall in love with this child with her monkey.

With Kurt and Lisa, O'Flynn is not as comfortable - a bit clunky when Kurt and Lisa talk about their unhappy states of mind but O'Flynn doesn't delve too long there; she switches to their everyday tasks and the people they work with, and these parts are lovely. A missing brother who sends birthday tapes every year, a mother who still shops in the High St, a conversation with a co-worker given to violent urges, a corporate trainer who goes on about helicopters and ladders, the imminent store inspection which (almost) never materializes all manage to be so depressingly funny. The most important character in the novel other than Kate is Green Oaks itself and here, in describing the mall and the people who inhabit it, who make it the monster that it has become, O'Flynn is just perfect. How does one manage such a scathing critique of the lives we lead in what is clearly an emotional story about a missing girl? Or wait, is it really the loss of our moral and intellectual lives that O'Flynn is talking about while cleverly inserting the poignant story of a ten year old detective? Well, you will have to go read the book to figure that out.

So all's perfect then, you ask? Not really. In an attempt to tie in all loose ends, the plot becomes way too twisted. But if you think this book is about the plot once you have read it, you need to get your head checked. Really. Oh, and one more thing. Falstaff mentions this in his review but I have a feeling this will sound more credible coming from me - What Was Lost is one of the most accessible books that I have read in recent months. Just because Falstaff loves it so much does NOT mean its not readable. Quite the contrary. It is a fast read and in all probability, you will finish it in less than three hours. O'Flynn's success is precisely that she manages to put in so much in what is a hugely enjoyable read. (And it is to find authors such as O'Flynn that we have long lists. And Melas!)

PS: Just received word from library that three of my reservations Mister Pip, Winnie and Wolf, and Darkmans are all available for pickup. The weekend is looking very good, methinks!


Falstaff said...

No, no, you should not read this book in three hours. You should read it slowly and savor it. And pause every now and then to stop chuckling before you go on.

And I totally resent the insinuation that things I like tend to be inaccessible.

And you've got your hands on Darkmans - Aaarggh! I'm so envious. All I have left is Animal's People. And some vague prospects of getting hold of Mister Pip.

Veena said...

Agree. But you know, I was trying to encourage people to pick it up in the first place.

You can resent it but I think its true - lots of people get scared away if you like something that much. (Bill says he doesn't really think you resent it all that much)

Ya ya but I am more envious of this New Mexico jaunt. Whats all this about?