Lost & Found
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Millie Bird is given a harsh introduction to death when the family pet Rambo dies. Her mother gives her a hasty, yelled out definition and introduces heaven as an idea to a bewildered Millie and it isn’t long before she sees her second dead thing, an old man who has been hit by a car. Millie begins keeping a Book of Dead Things, not knowing at the time that her father would soon be a Dead Thing too. Not long after his death, Millie’s mother takes her to a department store and tells Millie to wait quietly in the women’s underwear section because she’ll be back soon. Millie’s mother doesn’t come back.
Agatha Pantha is an 82 year old widow who hasn’t left her house since her husband died quite a few years ago. Agatha lives her life according to a rather rigorous routine, waking early and inspecting her body for signs of aging and moving around the house depending on her mood. Most days she sits behind her window of overgrown ivy and shouts at those passing by, picking on anything that doesn’t meet her approval – which is pretty much everything.
Karl the Touch Typist is 87 and an escapee from a nursing home. He has lost his wife and lived with his son for a while before his son’s wife suggested delicately that there really might be a better place for him…elsewhere. The nursing home wasn’t for Karl and so he spends his days haunting the nearby department store. It is there that Karl meets Millie, seven years old and on her own.
Millie needs to find her mother. She’s been sprung hiding out in the department store (well, perhaps sprung isn’t the best word after Millie’s displays for her mother) and now before the authorities can hand her over to a child welfare department, Millie decides the best option is to escape their clutches and head home. Across the road, Agatha sits watching her. She knows that Millie’s mother has left and doesn’t look like returning for a while. For the first time in a long time, Agatha is compelled to leave her home.
Millie, Agatha and Karl are all a bit lost. But they’re going to find each other. And it’s going to be an adventure, the likes of which none of them have ever seen or experienced before.
Lost & Found is a debut novel by Australian author Brooke Davis that is already gathered a lot of positive attention and reviews. I have to admit – I’m a little conflicted about this one. On one hand, some of the writing is truly poetic and beautiful. Some of the characters are heart-wrenching and lovely. And the over all scenario of Millie trying to find her mother after basically being abandoned in the department store, is heart-breaking. But on the other hand, this book is quirky. And not in just a little way either. Pretty much everyone is eccentrically quirky in a big way. At times this is amusing….however there are times when it becomes irritating, bogging down the work in a loosely connected series of quirky events that defy any sense of reality at all. Some people will really embrace this and be utterly charmed by it, others will at times probably struggle with it. There are things that are quite inexplicable, such as why they take the train from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne when it becomes sort of obvious that they’re in quite a hurry if they want to find Millie’s mother. It is obviously much longer and more expensive that it would be to fly….but clearly the train journey includes much more in the way of showcasing unusual happenings and the fighting of authority.
I was mostly captivated by the character of Millie and her signs and directions for her mother to find her again. In the beginning she is unaware that her mother doesn’t plan to come back for her and has left her in a place where she will be seen and found and presumably, taken care of. Millie proves to be quite wily though, hiding out in the department store for several days before giving away her presence in the most spectacular fashion. Afterwards, Millie continues to leave notes for her mother “In here Mum” etc, wherever she is. She’s a clever, ingenious character, very endearing. She’s preoccupied with death and the fact that everything dies eventually, a message that is repeated many times throughout the book. In her situation though, it would not be hard to become preoccupied. Last year I lost my remaining grandfather and whilst I was up in my former hometown to say goodbye and then attend his funeral, I had my 5yo and 2yo with me. My 2yo was too young to understand and didn’t really remember my grandfather but he’d played a much bigger role in my 5yo’s life and explaining that he had died and would not longer be around anymore was quite a difficult thing both for me to convey and my son to understand. He became quite a bit obsessed with death and when other people in his life might die and upset when he found out that eventually, everyone and everything does die. This was a message that was reinforced and an issue that resurfaced when one of our pet greyhounds passed away last month. We’d had the dog since before he was born, he was an every day part of my son’s life and for him to disappear was very upsetting for him. In this case I feel that Millie’s preoccupation is very real.
I had varying degrees of interest in the other characters. Agatha Pantha started off promising but I did find myself a bit alienated by her yelling out various things to people. Karl the Touch Typist was likewise promising at the start but the mannequin thing ended up really confusing me. I didn’t get it at all to be honest and I think it probably fits into the category of just too quirky and weird for me. I did admire both their dedication to Millie and helping her find her mother, and the way in which both of them break the barriers around them that have been either self-constructed (in Agatha’s case) or by his family (in Karl’s). I also enjoyed the way the two of them really outsmarted people, mostly authority but there’s one scene where they outwit and escape some would-be thugs that is highly amusing.
Lost & Found has its charms and as I mentioned, the writing is truly poetic at times. Millie is a beautiful character and I suppose it’s a testament to her that I was so anxious to learn what happened to her after the events of the novel, more than just the brief paragraph that is given concerning her preoccupation. For me it verges into over-the-top on occasion but I’ve no doubt that this book will find a place within many people’s hearts.
Book #119 of 2014
Lost & Found is the 43rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014