BookBrowse Reviews What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

What Was Lost

A Novel

by Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A haunting debut from an incredible talent. Winner of the Costa Award, published in the USA as a paperback original

Every once in a while a book comes along that takes your breath away. What Was Lost is such a book. Catherine O'Flynn's stunning first novel contemplates the loss of innocence and the dullness of modern life. A simple story about two people's investigation of a young girl's mysterious disappearance grows into a larger rumination on modernity, maturation, and love under O'Flynn's deft and empathetic pen. The novel is divided into two main narratives: Ten-year-old Kate Meaney's life as a detective and Lisa and Kurt's experiences at Green Oaks shopping mall in 2004, two decades later. The two narratives mirror each other in theme and action, and the result is an artfully constructed and interesting whole.

Kate Meaney wants to be a detective. She enlists the help of her friend Mickey, a stuffed monkey, and begins to look for crime in her neighborhood. She is a diligent, respectful, and innocent child who wants to save good people from criminals. She receives little adult supervision and is left to do much as she pleases, which includes sitting in Green Oaks for hours observing her "suspects".

O'Flynn creates a real child in Kate, and it is heart wrenching to think that she is alone in public places with only her monkey and detective notebook for protection. When the narrative shifts to the Lisa/Kurt plot, and it becomes clear that Kate has disappeared, the meaning of the title bears down in full force. Many things are lost when Kate disappears: innocence, childhood, love, and possibility. When the truth about Kate's disappearance is learned, the real pain of what is lost becomes even more acute.

The second half of the plot develops almost exclusively within the confines of the Green Oaks shopping mall, a huge, creepy, soulless shopping center on the edge of one of England's 'new towns' (planned communities developed after WWII). Green Oaks has a haunting, dark history and the labyrinthine tunnels that run behind the public spaces are scary. Gavin, the security guard that works with Kurt, knows too much about Green Oaks and his monstrous fascination with the dark places in the shopping mall is disturbing. The place has a character all its own and the juxtaposition that O'Flynn makes between the empty shops on the high street and the crowded shopping mall cannot be missed. Green Oaks represents what is wrong with modern life.

Although the plot remains fascinating when the narrative shifts to Lisa/Kurt, the best part of the novel is over when the Kate section is finished. Lisa, a shop manager, and Kurt, a security guard, are aimless adults working in Green Oaks. Juxtaposed to Kate's interest and passion for life, they are defeated and discontent. Both of them are haunted by painful experiences and they come together to investigate the mystery behind Kate's disappearance. The first section of their narrative lags, though this might be because the overwhelming desire to find out what happens to Kate makes it difficult to concentrate on much else. Lisa and Kurt are nicely drawn, but they are merely vehicles for solving Kate's mystery. Though the scenes in Lisa's shop, with the smart sketches of irate customers and idiot bosses, are funny and provide a nice counterpoint to the gothic, dark elements of the main narrative, they are ultimately distracting.

This is a beautiful book, and it is a truly remarkable first novel. It has everything necessary for a good read: absorbing characters, artful construction, fascinating plot, mystery elements to keep the pace moving, and thought-provoking themes. This is a novel not to be missed.

This review is from the July 11, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Amber Shadows
    The Amber Shadows
    by Lucy Ribchester
    The Amber Shadows sweeps readers into the realm of World War II-era Britain where Honor "Honey" ...
  • Book Jacket: Midwinter Break
    Midwinter Break
    by Bernard MacLaverty
    Northern Ireland's Bernard MacLaverty is the author of five novels and multiple short story ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ninth Hour
    The Ninth Hour
    by Alice McDermott
    In a pivotal scene in The Ninth Hour, young Sally encounters an increasingly loathsome series of ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Twelve-Mile Straight
    by Eleanor Henderson

    An audacious epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford

    Inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle's epic 1909 World's Fair.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise

A debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y Can't M A S P O O A S E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.