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August Discussion – Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

lostandfoundWe were a small but enthusiastic group for bookclub this month.  As noted for the primary schools we may need to look at our dates for 2015 to make sure that bookclub does not fall in Book Week again – there is a lot going in on schools at that time.

Lost & Found has been gaining quite a lot of publicity.  It has been sold into 25 countries and will be translated into 20 languages for its overseas release in 2015.  Brooke Davis has also been the subject of an episode of Australian Story.

Our group had mixed feelings about this text ranging from thoughts of “just delightful”, “heartfelt and inspiring” to “missed the mark” and “not my style”.  For some, the whimsical, magical, slightly over-the-top style of writing was not something that appealed to them whilst for others they felt that this novel really imitates the confusion and dislocation that occurs in grief.  Others were on the fence – some parts had strong appeal but  a couple of  members felt the book was lacking in continuity or they felt it was trying too hard to be quirky and unusual.

We began by discussing the overarching themes of the novel – death and grief and how little preparation we have in our modern society for dealing with life events.  We noted that there is no right way of experiencing grief and it is different for each person and each relationship.  The following article from Brook Davis, written during the writing of the novel, looks at grief from a literary viewpoint and makes for some interesting reading: http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct12/davis.htm

As part of the process of coming to terms with the death of her own mother Brooke began writing Lost & Found.  The first character she wrote about was Millie Bird, a seven year-old girl obsessed with death and dying things.  We thought that we did not need to delve too deeply to see that perhaps Millie signifies Brook’s own grief at the loss of her mother – this led on to the discussion of losing parents and how when we relate to parents we are always the child; even when we become the carers. The other characters Agatha Pantha and Karl the Touch Typist are two elderly characters, each one mourning, in different ways, the loss of their spouse. For some the name Agatha Pantha was too close to agapanthus to be taken seriously.

As much as this is a novel about grief it is also about loneliness and aging.  Agatha in particular is lost and lonely; she hides in her house all day, yelling obscenities at anyone who walks past.  She is completely divorced from society.  We thought that perhaps she had not had a particularly happy life because of the options that were available to her as a young woman in her time.  In a sense life has passed Agatha by without her realising.  She catalogues each moment of her life in an effort to make sense of it and to thwart death itself; however, she is barely living.  We felt that at times Brooke beautifully captures the anxiety and despair of this woman after her husband has died when she has no capacity to cope with the outpouring of assistance,

 They talked to her with their face only centimetres away from hers.  I understand, they all said, because Susie/Fido/Henry died last year/last week/ten years ago because he/it/she had lung cancer/was hit by a car/wasn’t really dead but was dead to her because he was living with a twenty-six year-old on the Gold Coast.

Her frustration that anyone can pretend to understand her feelings and her grief, when she has no ability to identify them herself, tips her over to full scale rage.

One of the most moving moments in the book for some of us was when Karl, in overhearing his daughter-in-law complain about him to his son, realises that he is not welcome in his son’s home and that he has become a burden to them.  He takes himself to the nursing home, thereby sparing his son and daughter the guilt of making the decision for him, where although he initially prepares himself to stay, has an epiphany that there is life within him yet!  We discussed what a privilege it is too grow old, but it is also difficult once you outlive your peers.  There are some lovely moments in the novel where Karl looks back over his small, but love-filled, life with his wife Evie.

The narrative shifts between the three characters as they head off on their road trip through Western Australia, ostensibly to find Millie’s mother but also in search of life and adventure for the two older characters.  We did appreciate how well Brooke manages to convey the distinct and age appropriate voice of each character.  At times we were bemused by the supporting characters –  typically, laconically Australian – but some, we felt, distracted from the main storyline.  For instance, the young couple who first give Karl a lift were quite unpredictable in their actions and we did not entirely understand why they became so hostile when at the beginning they were so in love.  In particular, we did not quite take to the department store mannequin, “Manny” and wondered what purpose its inclusion served in the story line.  Some of the group felt that elements such as this almost tipped the humour into slap-stick and were distracting.

The abandonment of Millie by her mother was difficult for some of us to read about.  We felt that the clues were there that her mother had not truly been present as a parent and it was her father who had been the main influence in her life.  It also felt quite unusual that her parents withheld the truth from Millie all the time – her mother’s refusal to allow her to attend her father’s funeral was also disturbing.  The little notes that Millie left in the store, ‘In here, Mum’, even as she realised that she had been abandoned by her mother were poignant.  We felt that the plot construct of the road trip and escape was a little unrealistic, especially once Millie’s situation had come to police attention – it was felt to be quite unlikely that these three would have been able to get very far on their journey (even though there are huge distances in WA) without the authorities looking for them.  After some discussion it was agreed that perhaps it is too picky to focus on the minutiae of the plot when it is the big picture themes that are more important in this novel.

Most of the group were unsure about giving this to students to read.  Some thought that the sex scene between Karl and Agatha was probably not something that teens would want to read about – although it was suggested it wouldn’t hurt them to realise that old people are sexual beings too.  The swearing at the barbecue scene was also felt to be a little unnecessary and probably difficult to explain in a school library.  Senior students, however, might find the themes an interesting study.

Overall there are some wonderful, warm and insightful moments in this novel, there are some fabulous examples of figurative language, and we are looking forward to seeing what this young, talented writer produces next.