Monday, December 1, 2008
Catherine O'Flynn/WHAT WAS LOST
In 1984, 10-year-old Kate Meaney, a loner without family or friends to speak of, opens a detective agency. Kate's hope is to identify, through hours of careful and boring observation, a crime somewhere in her everyday surroundings, solve the crime, and garner recognition from real adult detectives. Her "surveillance" takes her to Green Oaks, a new shopping complex a bus ride from her home in Birmingham, the industrial capital of the British Midlands, where she spends hours each day tracking the various suspicious characters who troll the mall. Twenty years later, in the same shopping center, two lonely, disaffected people--Kurt, a security guard, and Lisa, a manager at a music store--try to distill their lives and understand what is keeping them so miserably rooted to Green Oaks. It turns out they have one thing in common--Kate Meaney.
I ended up buying this book because I have picked it up at least 4 times in a bookstore, thought, "This looks interesting," and then left without it. I decided to bite the bullet on Saturday, and overall I'm glad I did.
This is a good, quick read. (I read the entire book in one sitting, and I'm not someone who can frequently pull that off.) While I found the rotating narrative a little irksome and occasionally boring--why this section? what does it have for me? etc--the story is extremely accessible. While the text isn't exactly a triumph of originality, Catherine O'Flynn's tirelessly (and, it seems, intentionally) pedestrian narrative captures and embodies the malaise that afflicts so many people. The story is full of people to whom life has happened--mediocre relationships, jobs they don't like or understand, misplaced or uncommunicative families. Their familiarity is almost uncomfortable, as is their ability to tolerate the intolerable people around them and to tolerate their own lives, which have few or no redeeming features. The book, in the end, is about the challenge of fighting our own unhappinesses, an easily digestible cautionary tale about being true to ourselves, wrapped around a mystery that turns out to be exactly as satisfying as it needs to to support the story.