Summary and book reviews of The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips

The Lost Child

by Caryl Phillips

The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips X
The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
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About this Book

Book Summary

Caryl Phillips reimagines Emily Bronte's melodramatic "Wuthering Heights", weaving the past and the present into a modern story of exile and difference.

Caryl Phillips's The Lost Child is a sweeping story of orphans and outcasts, haunted by the past and fighting to liberate themselves from it. At its center is Monica Johnson - cut off from her parents after falling in love with a foreigner - and her bitter struggle to raise her sons in the shadow of the wild moors of the north of England. Phillips intertwines her modern narrative with the childhood of one of literature's most enigmatic lost boys, as he deftly conjures young Heathcliff, the anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, and his ragged existence before Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to his family.

Written in the tradition of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and J. M. Coetzee's Foe, The Lost Child is a multifaceted, deeply original response to Emily Bronte's masterpiece, Wuthering Heights. A critically acclaimed and sublimely talented storyteller, Caryl Phillips is "in a league with Toni Morrison and V. S. Naipaul" (Booklist) and "his novels have a way of growing on you, staying with you long after you've closed the book." (The New York Times Book Review) A true literary feat, The Lost Child recovers the mysteries of the past to illuminate the predicaments of the present, getting at the heart of alienation, exile, and family by transforming a classic into a profound story that is singularly its own.

I
SEPARATION

She likes to sit down by the docks in a place where sunlight can discover her face. Once there, she leans back and listens to the monotony of seawater lapping against the quayside, and she has no concept of the hour. She disturbs no one, but she hears footsteps passing in each direction. She is a woman in debt who can no longer find anyone willing to employ her at the loom; she is a diminished woman who, before her time, has yielded reluctantly to age and infirmity. They call her Crazy Woman, but she smiles and forgives them. It is spring, but winter is still in the air. She puts on a sad demeanour and fumbles at the hair buttons on her dark worn coat, and then she hears a penny drop into the box and she looks up and offers a toothless grin to the tall frock-coated man who is now walking away from her. She wants to tell the man that it hasn't always been like this, truly it hasn't. She wants to tell him, but to what purpose? The man wears a tight smirk of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. As The Lost Child unfolded, how did the opening scene affect your reading? How is the image of Heathcliff's mother echoed in subsequent chapters?
  2. The quest for social status and the pain of alienation drive much of the plot in Wuthering Heights. What might Emily Brontë have thought of the Johnson family?
  3. What is at the root of Monica and Julius's attraction to each other? In what ways are they both "foreigners"?
  4. In part IV, "The Family," Phillips provides a moving portrait of the Brontë sisters and their life with their brother and father. How did their fates influence your perception of the other characters in The Lost Child?
  5. What is at stake for Ronald Johnson in his career and within his household? Why ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I can think of no better pleasure than to read The Lost Child and to reread Wuthering Heights right after. Entering into the nitty gritty of the thematic connections Phillips hopes to make – about loss and identity, gender and race, creativity and adversity – is a satisfying, although not undemanding venture. The ghostly presence of Emily Brontë makes The Lost Child more than the sum of its parts, and the resonances Phillips explores between the literary past and the recent historical past echo in the mind long after the novel is finished.   (Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).

Full Review (863 words).

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Media Reviews

The Boston Globe
His riff on Emily Brontë's masterpiece is like a jazz improvisation: Phillips plucks the themes that resonate most deeply with him and transposes them into a polyphonic narrative . . . His vision is less romantic, but just as sorrowful and moving.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Gorgeously crafted and emotionally shattering.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Emily Brontë

In The Lost Child, Caryl Phillips takes up elements from the life of Emily Brontë and her masterpiece novel of 1847, Wuthering Heights. Brontë's life and works are often read in tandem. Perhaps because her life was so brief and her oeuvre so small, both the biography and the work are needed to get a grip on what she was thinking. That an unassuming, free-spirited woman of the early nineteenth century could produce one of the most haunting novels in the English literary canon is a fact that astonished contemporary readers and continues to enthrall today.

Emily Brontë Emily Brontë was born in 1818 to Patrick Brontë (né Brunty, of Ireland) and his wife, Maria. She was the fifth of six children, and at the age of two, the ...

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