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Chris High books reviewed

What Was Lost

Catherine O’ Flynn

Publisher: Tindall Street Press
ISBN: 978 0 9551 384
January, 2007

Image: Front cover of the book 'What Was Lost'.


Okay, it is freely admitted. What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn was lost until recently. So how it become noticed? Becoming the winner of The Costa First Book Award, 2007, short listed for the Guardian First Book Award, 2007, Long listed for The Man Booker Prize, 2007, long listed Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, 2007 and short listed for The South Bank Show Literature Award, 2007 it is a little difficult to miss but, although the nominations and prizes this debut has won are phenomenal, they barely begin to illustrate just how good this book is.


It is the 1980s, and Kate Meaney is a serious-minded and curious young girl - who spends her time with her toy monkey acting out the role of a junior detective. She notes goings-on at the Green Oaks shopping centre and in her street, particularly the newsagent's where she is friends with the owner’s son Adrian. When she disappears, Adrian falls under suspicion and is hounded by the press. It's 2004 and thirty-something Lisa is at work in a cut-price record store, tearing her hair out at customers bizarre requests and the even more bizarre behaviour of her colleagues. While at home, the futility of her relationship is slowly becoming apparent. Over shared fish paste sandwiches, she strikes up a friendship with security guard Kurt - and, following CCTV glimpses of Kate, they become entranced by the lost little girl and her connections with the strange history of Green Oaks itself.

Disturbingly real, it is clear that Catherine O’Flynn has drawn largely from her life as a secret customer and record shop employee, as Green Oaks becomes an extra character, telling its bizarre and intriguing life-story through the eyes of its patrons and staff with such whole-hearted honesty the building almost seems to breathe.

Written with a similar atmosphere to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time, there the comparisons end as this is without doubt a unique reading experience, as we take a journey of discovery that is both disheartening and uplifting in equal measure.

Kurt is a everybody who has ever wished a New Year can bring a new start, Lisa is everybody who has ever treaded water without knowing why, Adrian is everybody who has been too afraid to confront authority and Kate – the epicentre of the story – is everybody who has ever yearned to be a detective when they were a child.

Oh yes, and everybody has met a Gavin and worked for a Crawford.

Somehow, however, the author has managed to imbue every single character with a fresh, inspiring and totally captivating personality that just refuses to be ignored and so generates a deep rooted fascination with this ordinary yet far from dull observation of human nature.

Part ghost story, part crime fiction and part social satire, if ever a book was written to be read in one sitting, What Was Lost is it and the only hope is that Catherine O’Flynn doesn’t wait too long before releasing her second novel.



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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