Summary and book reviews of What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost

A Novel

by Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost
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  • Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

A tender and sharply observant debut novel about a missing young girl - winner of the Costa First Novel Award and long-listed for the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and The Guardian First Book Award

In the 1980s, Kate Meaney—“Top Secret” notebook and toy monkey in tow—is hard at work as a junior detective. Busy trailing “suspects” and carefully observing everything around her at the newly opened Green Oaks shopping mall, she forms an unlikely friendship with Adrian, the son of a local shopkeeper. But when this curious, independent-spirited young girl disappears, Adrian falls under suspicion and is hounded out of his home by the press. Then, in 2003, Adrian’s sister Lisa—stuck in a dead-end relationship—is working as a manager at Your Music, a discount record store. Every day she tears her hair out at the outrageous behavior of her customers and colleagues. But along with a security guard, Kurt, she becomes entranced by the little girl glimpsed on the mall’s surveillance cameras. As their after-hours friendship intensifies, Lisa and Kurt investigate how these sightings might be connected to the unsettling history of Green Oaks itself. Written with warmth and wit, What Was Lost is a haunting debut from an incredible new talent.

Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn't be too late. The bus driver was keeping the bus at a steady 15 m.p.h., braking at every approaching green light until it turned red. She closed her eyes and continued the journey in her head as slowly as she could. She opened them, but still the bus lagged far behind her worst projection. Pedestrians overtook them, the driver whistled.

She looked at the other passengers and tried to deduce their activities for the day. Most were pensioners; she counted four instances of the same huge, blue-checked shopping bag. She made a note of this occurrence in her pad; she knew better than to believe in coincidences.

She read the adverts on the bus. Most were seeking advertisers: 'If you're reading this, then so could your customers.' She wondered if any of the passengers ever took out advertising space on the bus, and what they would advertise if they did.

'Come and enjoy my big, blue-checked shopping ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What drove Kate into an imaginary detective world? What sort of heroism does she fantasize about?

  2. How was Kate influenced by her father, both before and after his death? How did his approach to parenting compare to her grandmother’s?

  3. What makes Green Oaks so appealing to Kate? Why is it important for her to go where no one knows her?

  4. How did you react to the shift in point of view after Kate disappeared? How did the adults’ perceptions compare to hers?

  5. How does Lisa cope with the aftermath Kate’s disappearance has on her brother and her parents?

  6. How would you characterize Kurt and Kurt Sr.? How do the differences between Kurt and his sister, Loretta, affect their roles in the family?

  7. Discuss Green Oaks itself ...
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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2007

  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2007

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (590 words).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times - Jane Smiley

What Was Lost is a moving novel, bespeaking not only the energy and inventiveness of its author but also the power of good old realism. A realist novel explores what's out there beyond the narrator's or the author's state of mind. A realist novel portrays the world as a place where empathy and sympathy are both possible, and both give the individual's inherent loneliness meaning. A realist novel asks the reader to connect and maintains that there are ideas and people worth connecting to.

Library Journal

This seamlessly written, character-driven novel offers up well-appreciated humor along with its darker material, and readers who enjoy sideswiping surprises will not be disappointed.

School Library Journal

This is a book with high appeal to mystery and suspense fans, and also to anyone who appreciates fine writing or mesmerizing storytelling.

Kirkus Reviews

O'Flynn is able to capture a character or a scene with a few perfect details, and she seems to possess an uncanny,ennobling sympathy for her characters. Heartbreaking, hilarious and immensely rewarding.

Publishers Weekly

Gripping to the end, the book is both a chilling mystery and a poignant examination of the effects of loss and loneliness.

The Guardian - Catherine Taylor

What Was Lost is an exceptional, polyphonic novel of urban disaffection, written with humour and pathos. Kate's deceptively jaunty diary entries reveal a consumer-driven society choking on its own loneliness; a ghost story; and an examination of unspeakable loss.

The Independent

Partly a ghost story, partly a mystery, this tautly written novel captures both the charm and the ugliness of childhood. Inventive and humorous, O'Flynn saves her best lines for the more monstrous members of the retail trade.

The Age - Heidi Maier

A resoundingly bleak tale, it is also filled with pathos and frequently made memorable by its descriptions of the urban wasteland through which its small cast of characters move like ghosts, eking out day-to-day existences that, it seems, will never rise above the stultifying sadness that is bringing them undone.

Reader Reviews

Kim

Well-written debut novel
What was Lost is a very non-standard mystery novel. It’s truly a story in two parts. The first half is a light, enjoyable tale from child’s perspective, reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It’s very well-written, with...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Shopping Malls

A shopping mall is defined as a collection of shops usually in one main building or close series of buildings. It would seem that shopping malls date back to at least the 10th century when it is said that Isfahan's Grand Bazaar in Iran was founded (the current buildings date to the 17th century). The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey was built in the 15th century and is still one of the biggest covered markets in the world.

In the Western world, modern-day shopping malls trace their roots to the mid-19th Century covered rows of shops known as arcades, such as the Royal Opera Arcade (Britain's oldest built in 1818) which was closely followed by others such as the more famous Burlington Arcade which ...

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