Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'What Was Lost', by Catherine O'Flynn

Catherine O'Flynn's brilliant debut novel (winner of the Costa First Novel Prize) What Was Lost, has just arrived in the Library and is strongly recommended.

'Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn't be too late.' Our detective from Falcon Investigations is Kate, a 10 year-old heading for her daily holiday surveillance shift at the new local Green Oaks Shopping Centre. Together with her assistant Mickey the Monkey (who she made from a Charlie Chimp the Gangster craft kit), she keeps an eye on the centre's customers, staff, shops, banks ... It is 1984. Not so much Big Brother as Little Girl.

The novel then moves to 2004. Kate vanished twenty years ago (and is seen on CCTV in images reminiscent of the James Bulger story). The story moves to security guard Kurt ('he'd been looking at the same monitor screens for the past thirteen years') and music store assistant manager Lisa, stuck between nightmarish senior management and deranged floor assistants. What follows is a kind of mystery story - what happened to Kate all those years ago, and how are the lives of Kurt and Lisa affected by this?

What Was Lost is both very funny and very moving. Catherine O'Flynn captures perfectly the ferocious seriousness of childhood, and the heart-breaking emotional void below this child's detective role-playing. There are many other vivid minor characters -the sad (and sweet) sweet-shop worker Adrian, the appalling ranting manager Dave, the security guard Gavin (who manages to be both boring and sinister). This is partly a story of lives of quiet desperation, taking place against the background of a post-industrial deracinated Britain: thus the ironically named centre. In the end, it also becomes a love story.

Go to the Daily Telegraph here for a reading by the author, and an interview with Katherine O'Shea.

One further mystery : it was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Only long-listed?


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