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What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
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What Was Lost (2007)

by Catherine O'Flynn

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English (85)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  All languages (89)
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Kurt e Lisa lavorano entrambi a Green Oaks, un enorme centro commerciale che domina l’urbanistica, l’economia e la vita di un sobborgo di Birmingham. Lui è una guardia giurata dall'insonnia cronica, lei commesso capo in un negozio di CD che fa parte di una grande catena. Non si conoscono, ma quando nei nastri delle telecamere a circuito chiuso comparirà Kate, una bambina svanita nel nulla vent’anni prima, un passato doloroso li farà incontrare e li spingerà a indagare e ricordare, anche contro la loro volontà.Opera prima con cui l’ex postina O’Flynn si è aggiudicata il Costa Book Award di categoria nel 2007, “What Was Lost” alterna due piani temporali, il 1984 della bambina Kate e il 2003 dei due protagonisti, per raccontare una storia di destini forse ineluttabili e di drammatiche coincidenze, tutti segnati dalla mastodontica e divoratrice presenza del centro commerciale. Dell’autrice ho apprezzato la narrazione sciolta ma non banale e la capacità di gestire l’elemento di /mystery story/ su più livelli facendo combaciare gli elementi senza sbavature fino a una conclusione allo stesso tempo scioccante e dolceamara. Una nota di biasimo (e qui è di nuovo il traduttore che parla) va però alla Newton Compton, che lo ha pubblicato in italiano con un titolo ruffianissimo e derivato quale “La bambina che sapeva troppo”, catturando forse così qualche lettore in più, ma rovinando irrimediabilmente la poesia e il senso di rimpianto di un titolo originale che oltretutto avrebbe potuto essere tradotto letteralmente senza nessun problema. ( )
  plivo | Apr 21, 2018 |
La prima parte del libro mi ha affascinata: il mondo visto con gli occhi di una ragazzina di dieci anni che sogna di fare l'investigatrice privata. Avrebbe tanti motivi per essere triste, invece stupisce per la sua vitalità e dedizione a un sogno che vuole a tutti i costi tramutare in realtà.
La seconda parte del libro non mi ha presa più di tanto: all'inizio stuzziacante, con l'immagine di un fantasma che si aggira per un centro commerciale, poi si affievolisce un po' nelle storie veramente tristi dei personaggi. Le coincidenze sono tragiche e non si vorrebbe essere nei panni dei protagonisti per nulla al mondo. Certo è che l'autrice sa descrivere con gran maestria delle situazioni difficili, rendendo perfettamente le atmosfere e i sentimenti dei suoi personaggi. ( )
  LaPizia | Aug 3, 2017 |
It was interesting to come to O'Flynn's debut after reading her third, and most recent novel Mr. Lynch's Holiday. In reading her books out of order, I wondered what I might notice about how she had developed as a novelist. Would signature preoccupations and themes be identifiable? I thought I might come away with a better perspective on her as a writer, a word artist, and I did.

What Was Lost is a fine novel. It is certainly deserving of the first-book award it received. It concerns an unusual, bright, and neglected child--Kate Meaney--a girl detective who lives with her grandmother in what was formerly a store (with a large plate-glass front window), sandwiched between a newsagent's and a butcher's shop, in a now derelict business section of town. Kate's quite elderly father has recently died; her mother ran off on them long ago. Using a children's guide to crime detection (a gift from her father), Kate spends much of her free time at a large shopping complex (Green Oaks), her trusty stuffed-toy monkey partner poking from her backpack, surveiling a suspicious looking man routinely seen in a particular section of this monument to consumerism. When not at the mall, Kate can usually be found conversing with kindly 22-year-old Adrian Palmer, her only real friend. Adrian has recently completed university, but he's "stuck". In spite of his father's prodding him to get on with a real job, Adrian works at his dad's newsagent's/sweet shop where he provides inappropriate --some might say "tone-deaf"--music recommendations to the mostly senior clientele. Kate will make another friend at school, the outrageously behaved "bad girl", Teresa Stanton. The neglect that Kate suffers at home seems almost benign when compared to Teresa's chaotic home life.

While Kate's story set in 1984 forms almost the first third of O'Flynn's novel, most of the book will concern itself with two adult characters who work at Green Oaks in the year 2003. Lisa is a manager at a music store, and Kurt is a Green Oaks security guard. Both of them are as stuck as Adrian had been in 1984. Repeatedly resolving and failing to leave their tedious jobs, they teeter on the brink of despair. Both spend their days watching shoppers try to fill their own lives of quiet desperation with consumer goods. Lisa is in a dead-end relationship with a lazy, dull music-store colleague whose dreams don't extend beyond moving into a larger flat that will provide a better view of Green Oaks. Kurt's partner, Nancy, died in a motor vehicle accident a few years back, but shortly before her death he was already aware that she no longer loved him. He has ongoing sleep troubles that contribute to an even bigger problem distinguishing what is real from what is not. He spooks his co-worker when he claims to see over the CCTV monitor a young girl (Kate) standing right next to this man who is doing his nightly walkabout. It turns out that Kurt is the only one who can see the girl, and now all but one of Kurt's colleagues--the weirdest-- refuse to work the night shift with him. In the end, perhaps the most important thing to know about Lisa and Kurt is that they are connected to Kate and Adrian, both of whom went missing 19 years before. By the end of O'Flynn's finely observed and captivating novel, the reader will know what happened to Kate and her 22-year-old friend.

While I don't feel this first novel of O'Flynn's is quite as strong as her third--she goes just a little overboard in her skewering of consumer culture and the characters' lives are just a tad too bleak--it is clear that she has been a fine writer from the start. First of all, she has a vision of life that informs and infuses her work. I can't think of a recent writer who so brilliantly captures the pall-like tedium of most people's working lives: the repetitive, dull tasks; the variously idiosyncratic, dull, enraged, or bizarre work colleagues. Civilization certainly has its comforts and advantages, but I often think that some of the traditional, egalitarian indigenous cultures (like the Anishinabe/Ojibwa) had it right. Labour may have been somewhat divided along sexual lines, but there was variety and meaning in the work: one made things and performed tasks that were plainly critical to one's own and the group's survival. Many modern "jobs" offer little satisfaction to those who perform them.

Besides the fine, sometimes ironic and understated writing, O'Flynn has created characters here that you care for and wonder about, even after you've finished the novel. You feel something when you read her work. In this case, I'll admit that I felt a terrible sadness for what, in fact, was lost. However, O'Flynn does leave the reader with some hope in the wake of sadness. There is renewed human connection. (In this way, her first book resembles her third.) However, the humour that is so much a part of her later novel, Mr. Lynch's Holiday, is harder to find here.

Readers who are looking for lots of action may want to look elsewhere, but I believe thoughtful, more patient ones who enjoy character-driven literary novels will find much of value in What Was Lost.

Rating: 3.5, rounded up to 4. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Jun 29, 2017 |
I wasn’t immediately captivated by this tale but I am very glad I persevered. Not only is it a mystery to be solved but it is a social commentary and observation of the impact on shopping malls on communities. This proved a very satisfying read. ( )
  HelenBaker | Jan 1, 2017 |
This may be more like 3.75 stars; the point is, I liked it a lot.

It's a Book Club book, and precisely why I'm glad to be in Book Club: I may have never picked this up on my own. But it's a very tender, poetic, unhurried tale of the meaning of a single life, a life that seemed invisible to most.

The story revolves around Kate, a 10 year old junior detective. It is impossible not to like her. She is keen, directed, & driven. O'Flynn shows you how razor-thin the line between adult and child is at this age: Kate's sidekick is Mickey the Monkey, her stuffed toy she has suited up like Sam Spade. She drags him along on her surveillance adventures, she shares all her notes with him... but she knows getting him a walkie-talkie is ridiculous, no matter how badly she wants a set.

Kate vanishes one day. When you know her family history, and the extent of her surveillance, you can see it was only a matter of time. Her absence in the remainder of the story is a dull ache. Where she is excited about each day, taking charge of her future, the characters who pick up the story are numbed by the monotony of the lives they've fallen into. They're as lost as she is. It's just that no one knows it. And no one would suspect how they are bound to each other. Even Kate at her most observant would probably have missed the way this unfolds.

This is O'Flynn's first novel, and I'm curious to see if she's published more since this. Her writing style is lively and graceful, allowing things to unfold without rushing or over-explaining them. There are a couple of missed steps (or perhaps I missed their significance), but they can easily be forgiven - they're short distractions, not the undoing of the work as a whole.

Pick this up if you get a chance. ( )
  LauraCerone | May 26, 2016 |
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Written for Peter and dedicated to the memory of Donal of Hillstreet and Ellen of Oylegate.
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Crime was out there.
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Book description
Precocious 10 year old sleuth goes missing. Intertwined characters take up an investigation of what happens 20 years later.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805088334, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:53 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Twenty years after her brother is hounded from his home by rumors about his alleged role in a young girl's disappearance, Lisa and her security guard friend become increasingly curious about a child they glimpse on a mall's surveillance cameras.

» see all 6 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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