Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bookend: What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn


This was one of the books I grabbed from Fact & Fiction's free book cart one Saturday morning. It's an advanced reader's copy.

What Was Lost is told from several different perspectives (Kate, Adrian, Lisa, Kurt), from two different years (1984 and 2003). I used to really enjoy stories told from shifting perspectives, but not so much anymore. I didn't enjoy it very much in What Was Lost, either. Mostly because the first bit of story is narrated by Kate in 1984 and as a reader, I really connect with her. But the next part is narrated by Lisa in 2003, and the shift is too jarring.

In 1984, Kate is ten years old and an aspiring detective (reminded me much of Harriet the Spy, in a good way). O'Flynn does a great job rounding her character and making her feel like a real little girl. Kate makes cute observations of the world around her:

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 bag; it is filled with catfood.
I will talk to anyone about anything. I eat biscuits.
Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, officially recognized brewers of the world's strongest tea. "We squeeze the bag."
I smell strange, but not unpleasantly.

With dialogue like this, Catherine O'Flynn keeps the novel fresh. It is one of the things that really captivated me.

But, Kate disappears one day and is never found. The story jumps to 2003 and Lisa narrates. The four characters I previously mentioned have intertwining relationships around Kate. However, I never connected to Adrian, Lisa, or Kurt like I did Kate. O'Flynn tries to build their characters by including their histories, especially when they were young children. This detracted largely to the plot, for me. Especially as I see the plot being Kate's disappearance.

Another crucial character is the shopping mall where much of the story takes place. I can see O'Flynn's approach and I'm never entirely convinced of her personification of the mall.

Despite all this, I continue to think about What Was Lost from time to time, which tells me that there is something good here.