What Was Lost

What Was Lost

by Catherine O'Flynn

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805088335
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/24/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,311,606
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.88(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Catherine O’Flynn was born in Birmingham in 1970. She has worked as a teacher, a web editor, and a postwoman, as well as a record store clerk. What Was Lost is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


Falcon Investigations


Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn’t be too late. The bus driver was keeping the bus at a steady 15 m.p.h., braking at every approaching green light until it turned red. She closed her eyes and continued the journey in her head as slowly as she could. She opened them, but still the bus lagged far behind her worst projection. Pedestrians overtook them, the driver whistled.

She looked at the other passengers and tried to deduce their activities for the day. Most were pensioners and she counted four instances of the same huge, blue checked shopping bag. She made a note of the occurrence in her pad; she knew better than to believe in coincidences.

She read the adverts on the bus. Most were adverts for adverts: ‘If you’re reading this, then so could your customers.’ She wondered if any of the passengers ever took out advertising space on the bus, and what they would advertise if they did.

‘Come and enjoy my big, blue, checked shopping bag, it is filled with catfood.’

‘I will talk to anyone about anything. I also eat biscuits.’

‘Mr and Mrs Roberts, officially recognized brewers of the world’s strongest tea. “We squeeze the bag.”’

‘I smell strange, but not unpleasantly.’

Kate thought she would like to take out an advert for the agency. The image would be a silhouette of her and Mickey within the lens of a magnifying glass. Below, it would say:

Falcon Investigations
Clues found. Suspects trailed.
Crimes detected.
Visit our office equipped with the latest surveillance equipment.

She made another note in her pad of the phone number on the advert, to be rung at some later date when the office was fully operational.

Eventually the bus reached the landscaped lawns and forlorn, fluttering flags of the light industrial estates that surrounded the newly opened Green Oaks Shopping Centre. She paid particular attention to unit 15 on the Langsdale Estate, where she had once witnessed what seemed to be an argument between two men. One man had a large moustache, the other wore sunglasses and no jacket on what had been a cold day — she’d thought they both looked of criminal character. After some deliberation and subsequent sightings of a large white van outside the unit, she had come to the conclusion that the two men were trafficking diamonds. Today all was quiet at the unit.

She opened her pad at a page with ‘Unit 15 Surveillance’ written at the top. Next to that day’s date she wrote in the slightly jerky bus writing that dominated the page: ‘No sighting. Collecting another shipment from Holland?’

Fifteen minutes later Kate was walking through the processed air of the Market Place of Green Oaks. Market Place wasn’t a market place. It was the subterranean part of the shopping centre, next to the bus terminals, reserved for the non-prestige, low-end stores: fancy goods stores, cheap chemists, fake perfume sellers, stinking butchers, flammable-clothes vendors. Their smells mingled with the smell of burnt dust from the over-door heaters and made her feel sick. This was as far as most of Kate’s fellow passengers ventured into the centre. It was the closest approximation of the tatty old High Street, which had suffered a rapid decline since the centre had opened. Now when the bus drove up the High Street no one liked to look at the reproachful boarded up doorways filled with fast-food debris and leaves.

She realized that it was Wednesday and that she’d forgotten to buy that week’s copy of the Beano from her usual newsagent. She had no choice but to go to the dingy kiosk in the centre to get it. Afterwards she stood and looked again at the True Detective magazines on the shelf. The woman on the front didn’t look like a detective. She was wearing a trilby and raincoat . . . but nothing else. She looked like someone from a Two Ronnies sketch. Kate didn’t like it.

She rode the escalator up to the ground floor, where the proper shops, the fountains and plastic palms began. It was the school holidays, but too early to be busy. None of her classmates was allowed to go to the centre without their parents. Sometimes she’d bump into a family group with one of her peers in tow and would exchange awkward greetings. She had picked up a sense that adults tended to be uncomfortable with her solo trips out and about, so now whenever questioned by shop assistant, security guard or parent she would always imply that an unspecified adult relative was just off in another store. Largely, though, no one questioned her, in fact no one ever really seemed to see her at all. Sometimes Kate thought she was invisible.

It was 9.30 a.m. She retrieved her laboriously type­written agenda from her back pocket:

09.30—10.45 Tandy: research walkie talkies and micro­phones
10.45—12.00 general centre surveillance
12.00—12.45 lunch at Vanezi’s
12.45—13.30 Midland Educational: look at ink pads for fingerprinting
13.30—15.30 surveillance by banks
15.30 bus home

Kate hurried on to Tandy.

She was flustered to arrive at Vanezi’s restaurant a good twenty minutes past noon. This was not the way a professional operated. This was sloppy. She waited by the door to be seated, though she could see her table was still free. The same lady as usual took her to the same table as usual and Kate slid into the orange plastic booth which offered a view out over the main atrium of the centre.

‘Do you need to see the menu today?’ asked the waitress.

‘No thanks. Can I have the Children’s Special please with a banana float? And can I not have any cucumber on the beefburger, please?’

‘It’s not cucumber, it’s gherkin, love.’

Kate made a note of this in her pad: ‘Gherkins/cucumbers — not same thing: research difference.’ She’d hate to blow her cover on a Stateside mission with a stupid error like that.

Kate looked at the big plastic tomato-shaped tomato-sauce dispenser on her table. They were one of her favourite things — they made total sense.

At school last term, Paul Roberts had read out his essay, ‘The best birthday ever’, which culminated in his grand­parents and parents taking him out to Vanezi’s for dinner. He spoke of eating spaghetti with meatballs, which for some reason he and everyone else in the class had found funny. He was still excited as he rushed through his story of drinking ice-cream floats and ordering a Knicker­bocker Glory. He said it was brilliant.

Kate couldn’t understand why he didn’t just take him­self there on a Saturday lunchtime if he liked it so much. She could even take him the first time and tell him the best place to sit. She could show him the little panel on the wall that you could slide back to reveal all the dirty plates passing by on a conveyor belt. She could tell him how one day she hoped to place some kind of auto-shutter action camera on the belt, which could travel around the entire restaurant taking surveillance shots unseen, before returning to Kate. She could point out the washing-up man who she thought might be murderous, and perhaps Paul could help her stake him out. She could maybe invite him to join the agency (if Mickey approved). But she didn’t say anything. She just wondered.

She glanced around to check that no one could see, then she reached into her bag and pulled out Mickey. She sat him next to her by the window, so that the waitress wouldn’t notice, and where he had a good view of the people below. She was training Mickey up to be her partner in the agency. Generally Mickey just did surveillance work. He was small enough to be unobtrusive despite his rather outlandish get-up. Kate liked Mickey’s outfit even though it meant he didn’t blend in as well as he might. He wore a pin-striped gangster suit with spats. The spats slightly spoiled the Sam Spade effect, but Kate liked them anyway; in fact she wanted a pair herself.

Mickey had been made from a craft kit called ‘Sew your own Charlie Chimp the Gangster’ given to Kate by an auntie. Charlie had languished along with all of Kate’s other soft toys throughout most of her childhood, but when she’d started up the detective agency last year she thought he looked the part. Charlie Chimp was no good though. Instead he became Mickey the Monkey. Kate would run through their agenda with him each morning and he always travelled with her in the canvas army surplus bag.

The waitress brought the order. Kate ate the burger and perused the first Beano of the new year, while Mickey kept a steady eye on some suspicious teenagers below.


Kate lived a bus journey away from Green Oaks. Her home was in the only Victorian block of houses left in the area, a red-brick three-storey outcrop which looked uncomfortable amidst the grey and white council-built cuboids. Kate’s house was sandwiched between a news­agent’s shop on one side, and a butcher and greengrocer on the other. Her house had clearly also been a shop once, but now a net curtain hung across the front window and what had been the shop was a sitting room where Kate’s grand­mother spent her long afternoons watching quiz shows.

The house was the only one in the block not to function as a business (aside from Kate’s putative agency operation), and it was also the only one used as a home. None of her shopkeeper neighbours lived above their shops; at around six o’clock each evening they would shut up and depart for their semis in the suburbs, leaving silence and emptiness on all sides of Kate’s room.

Kate knew and liked the shopkeepers well. The green­grocer’s was run by Eric and his wife Mavis. They had no children, but they were always kind to Kate and bought her a surprisingly well-judged Christmas present each year. Last year it had been a Spirograph, which Kate had used to make a professional-looking logo on her business cards. Now her time was taken up with the agency and constant surveillance activity, Kate had less time to visit the couple, but still once a week she would pop in for a cup of tea and, swinging her legs from the stool behind the counter, she would listen to Radio 2 and watch the customers buy vast quantities of potatoes.

Next to Eric and Mavis was Mr Watkin the butcher. Mr Watkin was an old man, Kate estimated probably seventy-eight. He was a nice man with a nice wife, but very few people bought their meat from him any more. Kate thought this possibly had something to do with the way Mr Watkin stood in his shop window swatting flies against the sides of meat with a large palette knife. It was also perhaps a self-perpetuating situation, in that the fewer customers Mr Watkin had, the less meat he stocked, and the less meat he had, the less he looked like a butcher, and the more he looked like a crazy old man who collected and displayed bits of flesh in his front window. The previous week Kate had passed the window to see it contained only a single rabbit (and Kate was sure the only person alive who still ate rabbit was in fact Mr Watkin himself), some kidneys, a chicken, a side of pork and a string of sausages. This in itself was nothing too remarkable for Mr Watkin, but what caused Kate to stop and stare was an apparent new marketing initiative by the butcher. Evidently he had become a little embarrassed by the minimal nature of his window displays and so perhaps in order to make them seem less odd (and this is where Kate felt he’d really miscalculated), he had arranged the items in a jaunty tableau. Thus it appeared that the chicken was taking the rabbit for a walk by its lead of sausages, over a hillock of pork under a dark red kidney sun. Kate looked up from the grisly scene to see Mr Watkin nodding at her in amazement from inside the shop, thumbs aloft, as if taken aback by his own flair.

On the other side of Kate’s house was Mr Palmer the newsagent. Mr Palmer worked alongside his son Adrian, who was the closest Kate had to a best friend, and was also the first and so far only client of Falcon Investigations. Adrian was twenty-two and had been to university. Mr Palmer had wanted Adrian to get a ‘proper career’ after graduation, but Adrian had no such ambitions, and was happy to spend his days reading behind the counter and helping to run the small business. The Palmer family lived in a modern semi on the outskirts of town, but the mother and sister rarely visited the shop — sweet selling was left to the men of the family. Adrian treated Kate like an adult, but then Adrian treated everyone the same. He wasn’t capable of putting on a different face for different customers as his father did. Mr Palmer could switch from an avuncular ‘Now then, young man’, to an utterly sincere ‘Such a shocking headline, isn’t it, Mrs Stevens?’ in seconds.

But, whatever Adrian’s enthusiasms were, he tended to assume they were shared by all, or at least would be if he spread the word. He spent his afternoons buried in the NME or reading books about musicians. He would earnestly recommend albums to his customers, seemingly blind to the improbability of Mrs Docherty suddenly switching from Foster and Allen to the MC5, or Debbie Casey and her giggling teenage pals ever finding much of significance in Leonard Cohen. As soon as Mr Palmer left him alone in the shop, Jimmy Young’s radio show would be switched off and Adrian would slip a tape into the tinny radio cassette player. He thought that the reason no one ever asked him what was playing was because they were a little shy, so he would always put a scrawled sign on the counter: ‘Now Playing: Captain Beefheart, Lick My Decals Off, Baby. For more information just ask a member of staff’.

Table of Contents


Falcon Investigations

Voices in the Static

Staying in the City

The Lookout

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What drove Kate into an imaginary detective world? What sort of heroism does she fantasize about?

2. How was Kate influenced by her father, both before and after his death? How did his approach to parenting compare to her grandmother's?

3. What makes Green Oaks so appealing to Kate? Why is it important for her to go where no one knows her?

4. How did you react to the shift in point of view after Kate disappeared? How did the adults' perceptions compare to hers?

5. How does Lisa cope with the aftermath Kate's disappearance has on her brother and her parents?

6. How would you characterize Kurt and Kurt Sr.? How do the differences between Kurt and his sister, Loretta, affect their roles in the family?

7. Discuss Green Oaks itself and the closed factory that looms in its history. What do shopping and stores such as Your Music bring to the community? How pervasive is mall culture in our society?

8. How did your understanding of Teresa unfold? What had the dynamics between Kate and Teresa been like when they first met? How was Teresa affected by abuse once she reached adulthood?

9. Ultimately, who was responsible for Kate's death? Could it have been prevented?

10. What is evoked by the top-secret detective notebook entry that forms chapter 41 in the novel? In what way do Kate's observations in those last scenes bring her story full circle?

11. How would you describe the relationship between Lisa's co-workers? What do their interactions with each other and with the customers say about their personalities? Why do they stay in their jobs? How does Lisa handle the task of disciplining the volatile Steve in chapter 25? Why did Ian string Mr. Wake along for nearly two years regarding the classical-music cassette (chapter 31)?

12. Discuss the novel's title and its double meanings. In what way does Kate's disappearance serve as a metaphor for the other lost souls depicted by Catherine O'Flynn (including the mall generation itself)? How did Lisa and Kurt become lost? Is their apathy indicative of their generation as a whole?

Customer Reviews

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What Was Lost 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
Meaningful_Book_Lover More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book from the plot and I enjoyed the book, but it isn't one of my top books. The ending is crazy and twisted but very predictable from the beginning. I can see how they could of made the story a little better, but I can't say it was a bad book. I guess it was a little jumbled at points which was one of the main problems and felt like they wrote it too fast instead of taking more time to write a solid plot. Still, I enjoyed it.
grace45 More than 1 year ago
the writing style and author's voice were what made the book very readable. however, the central tension in the book remained a bit hard to follow. in fact, if i hadn't read the back cover synopsis, i might have missed one aspect of a central character's part in the plot. i did enjoy the set-up and the menacing presence of the mall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a juicy delight filled with curious characters with hopes and fears.I have gotten into the habit of reading saturday morning 10 - noon. Well, I didn't want to put this one down not even when lunch arrived.Bob Marley's Three Little Birds playing in the background. A perfect afternoon! Saying don't worry about a thing...
Jilseponie More than 1 year ago
I'd heard a lot about it, it won a Costa First Novel Award, but it just was NOT what I thought it would be and wasn't enjoyable either. This is another case of don't believe the cover blurb. this is not a mystery, this is not really about the girl who disappears, this is a character study of lonely, lost people. And boring. I finished it for two reasons: it was short and I really hoped to find out what happened on the day Kate Meaney disappeared. You do, in the very last chapter. Finally.
camomus More than 1 year ago
This book surprised me in how it grabbed me. I had started it as an "in-between" book; I had just finished a different great book and didn't think I'd end up with two in row! The writing style required attention, but it wasn't difficult. I thought her characters were typical of the reality of being an adult -- she broached some tough subjects with unerring honesty. Life in the city is not always little black dresses and martinis. Books like "What Was Lost" help us to not feel so lost as we trudge through our days. It's nice to be reminded you're not alone and that in itself portrays the book's message of hope.
Guest More than 1 year ago
at first i wasn't sure about this book, i read a little and then put it down and stopped for a few weeks. i then picked it up, read quite a bit of it and got really into it. at times it was hard to follow, but i continued reading. i was glad i gave it another chance and finished it.. its a really amazing book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We just had our book group discussion tonight and the overwhelming, unanimous consensus was bad. We all thought it was dreadfully slow, depressing, disconnected and hard to follow. Most of us had a tough time forcing ourselves to finish it. If the author truly wrote this influenced by experiences in her life, she must have a very depressing life. It seemed to be a book about the futility of life, and how much more depressing can that be?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed in this book. I was under the impression it was going to be action packed and I wouldn't be able to put it down, well it was the opposite. It was dull and hard to follow. I forced myself to finish it, hoping it would get better. I was left disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was dull and disconnected. I forced myself to finish it in the hope ther was some revelation. A big waste of time!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oh wow - what an amazing little gem this book was! This was O'Flynn's debut novel. She's got a fan here that will be looking for her second. The novel opens in 1984 and we meet nine year old Kate Meaney. She is a bit of a loner, preferring adults to children her own age. One of her favourite adults is Adrian, the son of a local shopkeeper. Kate is determined to be a detective. This is the driving force of her days. She carries a notebook and makes observations of all the people and situations she comes across. She has staked out both her neighbourhood and the new mall, Green Oaks. She decides to concentrate her time on Green Oaks. She shares her sleuthing dutiher little stuffed monkey. Until....she disappears. es with O`Flynn's portrayal of this little girl is amazing. Her determination, earnestness, and curious mind are all vividly painted with words. I was somewhat reminded of Christopher - the main character in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. (Another really good read!) Fast forward to 2003 at the Green Oaks Mall. It has expanded and is very large now. Kurt works as a security guard on the night shift. One night he inexplicably see a young girl with a stuffed monkey on the security camera. When he searches, she is gone. Lisa, Adrian's sister works at a music store in the mall. Working late one night, she gets lost in the staff only corridors and finds a stuffed monkey lodged down by a pipe. Lisa and Kurt are both lonely and feel their lives are empty. They meet and their lives become connected by a long missing little girl. The development of the characters of Lisa and Kurt is excellent. As with Kate, you immediately feel a real sense of their lives. Having worked in retail hell for many years, I found O'Flynn's descriptions of the mall, it's workers and customers to be spot on, very funny at times, but also very sad. This book is as much about the mystery of what happened to Kate as it is about Karl and Lisa reclaiming their lives. O'Flynn was listed for many prizes for this debut novel - and rightly so!
LizARees on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I've had this book for a while, but for some reason I'd never got round to reading it. Now I have I wish I'd picked it up sooner! The author superbly evokes time and place, and spins out a mystery that eventually links the different time periods and characters together. A twist at the end that I didn't see coming too. well worth reading.
phoebesmum on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A sad, haunting little story of a lost child and the repercussions of her disappearance, in the midst of all of which the author finds time for some acerbic and hilarious insights into the goings-on behind the scenes at a large chain of music stores.
tronella on LibraryThing 5 months ago
About a missing girl, mostly. But also on what happens to people when they lose important things, like family, ambition, hope. I enjoyed this a lot, and although it's very depressing in places it ends on a hopeful note.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a story of many levels, a story of a lost child, a story of lost dreams and a story of regaining some sense of self in the face of adversity. I could relate to the characters doing a job that they need to do to survive while watching dreams die. The catalyst for change is a missing child, Kate Meaney, a child who went missing at about the same time as the souless shopping centre was built where Lisa works in a music shop and Kurt as a security guard. As they both look into the disappearance of the child the reflection into the past brings out their issues in the present and makes them look at their own childhood and how they need to change to make their life more worthwhile.It's an interesting story and I could see the reflection of my own life in some of it, particularly the corporate speak that pervades and reflects reality in big business these days.
isabelx on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Mickey had been made from a craft kit called 'Sew your own Charlie Chimp the gangster' given to Kate by an auntie. Charlie had languished along with all of Kate's other soft toys throughout most of her childhood, but when she'd started up the detective agency last year she thought he looked the part. Charlie Chimp was no good though. Instead he became Mickey the Monkey. Kate would run through the agenda with him each morning and he always travelled with her in the canvas army surplus bag. The waitress brought the order. Kate ate the burger and perused the first Beano of the new year, while Mickey kept a steady eye on some suspicious teenagers below.A ten-year-old detective haunts the Green Oaks shopping centre, looking for suspicious behaviour and hoping to foil a bank raid. Twenty years after her mysterious disappearance she seems to be haunting the shopping centre again, when security guard Kurt sees her ghost on the security cameras.It's funny and sad in turns, and the mystery at the heart of the book is gripping. I'm not surprised that it won the Costa first novel award, as I couldn't put it down until I found out what happened to Kate all those years ago.
tina1969 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book is for book group.Kate is a 10 year old who has her own detective agency. She spends her days watching all around her and writing things down in her notebook. She lives with her dad who had Kate late on in years Then when he dies she lives with her grandmother. Her best friend is Adrain who is 22 years old and Teresa is her friend at school. When Kate disappears Adrain is accused of her abduction. Twenty years forward is Lisa and Kurt who work at the Green Oaks shopping complex where Kate spent most of her time.I didn't finish this book as I lost interest in it completely. I was really uncomfortable reading this book. Firstly I was annoyed with the fact that little Kate is allowed to wonder on a her own all day with no adult supervision, knowing that Kate is going to go missing. Then comes the argument when is a child old enough to do these things, e.g. walking to school alone, going to the shops etc. Then I felt her dad was strange as he and Kate were doing a comparison of pear drops. Her friend Teresa was being abused by her step father and she tried very hard to kill him off. Kates friendship with Adrian was very worrying also as her was 22 and she was only 10 !At first I thought I was reading a childrens book and had to look it up on the internet to see if it was. Then I thought is this book supposed to be funny but I didn't think it was. On a positive, I did like snippets of the first part of the book, but then found when I got to the second part it was starting to irritate me, so I gave up on page 168.
coolmama on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Katie is a 12 year old detective in the vein of Harriet the Spy. In 1984 Birmingham she hangs out at the newly open shopping center in town, spying on random individuals waiting for her big break. She disapears without a trace.20 year later a shopping center security center staff sees Katie on the CCTV monitors.Beautifully crafted fiction. Themes of damaged people, damaged lives, love and loss, famiies and finding oneself. The miasma of life in this gray, misty, depressed Birmingham. Life just carries on without purpose.Amazing debut by O'flynn.
Fluffyblue on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I read this book for an on-line book group, although it's probably something I would have read in due course anyway.The first part of the book was told from the perspective of a child, Kate Meaney, who saw herself as a detective and spent a lot of time at the local shopping mall. Her mother left shortly after giving birth, and her elderly father died of a stroke, and so her grandmother came to look after her. Before he died, her father gave her a book on how to be a detective. Kate came across as vulnerable, although she certainly would not have considered herself that. Her character was very sweet and innocent, and although you knew something bad happened to her, it was quite intriguing to find out what that was. The second part of the book was about people who worked at the mall, some 20 years after Kate disappeared. One was a security guard, the other a duty manager at a record store. Both were disillusioned about life, and eventually are brought together by Kate.The story was interesting, and for a debut novel was well written.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a very sweet story and at the same time a bit heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this one and think it would make a great bookgroup read. The writing is very good and the story wonderful.Kate Meaney, a little 10 year old girl, only wants to be a detective. She and her little stuffed monkey in spats go on "surveillance" missions, practicing the art of detection. She takes notes and has no problem staying in one spot watching someone for hours. Then one day, she disappears literally into thin air. That was in 1984. This story is the backdrop for the rest of the book, which takes place in modern times. As a disaffected security guard watches the monitor screen in a mall where he works, he sees a little girl sitting all alone, holding a stuffed monkey. When he looks up again, she is gone.There is also a great characterization of modern consumer society woven throughout the story that you can't fail to notice. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys something refreshingly different and wants to read some very good writing.
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing 5 months ago
It strikes me that several British novels (all by women) seem to be exploring the same territory: Nicola Barker's Darkmans, Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black and now Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost are set in post-industrial landscape which is ugly, dehumanised and despairing, and the ghosts of the past are clawing their way through the fabric of time to meddle with the present.Catherine O' Flynn sets her novel in a Birmingham shopping mall, Green Oaks (actually the main character in the book) while the ghost in question is that of a ten year-old girl, Kate Meany, who went missing (presumed murdered) back in 1980. She appears one night on the CCTV camera of security guard Kurt, while Lisa (deputy manager of Your Music shop) finds a toy stuffed behind the pipes in a service corridor. The novel unfolds as a kind of whodunnit mystery.The first section of the book takes place in the year Kate, aged 10, disappeared. The story of little Kate playing at detectives with her stuffed monkey Mickey in tow is charming and Kate and her rebellious friend Theresa are the most fully realised and likable characters in the book. If this first section reads like the start of a children's novel, the story soon moves on to more sinister stuff.I've always felt that shopping malls despite their surface glitz and glamour have a dark underbelly.In O'Flynn's novel, Green Oaks ( acts as a giant magnet, drawing in the dispossessed and dissatisfied who mooch around the shops all day with nothing better to do and nowhere better to go. O'Flynn is a careful observer, maybe because she herself has worked in retail and been a mystery-shopper and thus experienced of much she writes about, and she is at her best recording the disembodied voices which themselves float, ghost-like, through the mall.I used to work in one of the Birmingham-based shops she mentions in the first section - Midland Educational in their toyshop branch, Barnaby's and there was much in the book that took me back to that time. The utter dead-endness of the job, the petty rivalries between the staff, the sheer exhaustion of having to remain on your feet and be polite to people for hours at a time.What was lost, in the end? A girl's life, sure, but there are other poignant losses along the way - hope, ambition, self-esteem, a sense of direction.But perhaps other things are gained. Theresa has Kate to thank for her success in life, and the mystery brings together Kurt and Lisa and shakes them out of their ruts. Above all, the novel ends with a sense of painful things finally being resolved.The novel is very cleverly and neatly plotted, even if it can be argued (as some readers have) that there is a little too much coincidence at the end. Maybe, in that sense, that makes it a good antidote to Darkmans and Anne Enrights The Gathering where we are left with only loose ends in our hands when we try to conclusively solve the central mystery.
lightparade on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is an extraordinarily affecting first novel. Now it may be that I have spent too much of time in shopping centres, or in record shops, or indeed finding myself as an observer of others, but as What Was Lost makes clear, we are all observers now. The only proactive character is the child, Kate Meaney, and O'Flynn ensures the reader really wants Kate to grow, flourish, and succeed... and then... It's true that the coincidences are piled on a bit, but this is a novel of hyper-realism (no shopping mall - at least in England - is that large) so take it as it comes. When you reach the end, you'll fnid yourself staring slack-jawed into the night.
bookappeal on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book is difficult to review because it felt like two completely different books. As a mystery, it was awful. As a slice of life in a huge shopping center, it was a little brilliant. The ending had great promise and yet still managed to be a disappointment. Not recommended unless you like schizophrenic plotting.
voracious on LibraryThing 5 months ago
"What was Lost" is an interesting and funny book about a Kate Meany, a young girl determined to be a real detective and solve crimes in the nearby shopping mall. When she suddenly goes missing, the lives of others around her are affected for many years. The novel makes a sudden leap of twenty years after Kate disappears to introduce the lives of two mall employees, Kurt, a security guard, and Lisa, a record store manager, who are both burnt-out and stuck in their jobs in the mall. When a latent vision of Kate appears on security footage and her lost detective-partner stuffed monkey resurfaces in the labyrinth of employee passages, clues about what happened to Kate begin to come together. I found this novel deeply witty as descriptions of transient mall characters peppered the story, keeping the story light. It was evident that the author had spent quite a bit of time as a mall employee as the dark humor about life behind the scenes jabbed the reader at unexpected moments. While the novel was at times confusing as it shifted perspectives between the main characters and some unknown characters, the story proceeded at a good pace and it resolved in a satisfying way.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This was a short but thoroughly enjoyable book, full of humour and sadness in equal measure. I split my sides laughing at the record shop sections. Anyone who as ever wanted to work in such a place wouldn't after reading this! I never thought there was so much humour to be found in shopping centres, but here even the lift is a comedian. Thoroughly deserving of all the prizes it has won and the praise that has been heaped on it, I hope this massively talented author writes more and lots of it.
agnesmack on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I was taking out the trash a few weeks ago and found a few books on top of the dumpster, one of which was What Was Lost by Catherine O¿Flynn. I grabbed it up and started reading without even glancing at the description on the back. No expectations, that was my goal.It started out kind of dull and boring for me. The first 50 pages or so were told from the point of view of Kate Meaney, an 8 year old girl who spent her days inventing and solving crimes. I found the whole thing mostly uninteresting.Then, all of a sudden, the book skipped forward about 20 years or so. It turns out that Kate Meaney, while out investigating a crime, had gone missing. Various characters were blamed for her disappearance and the remainder of the book followed the stories of several people. It wasn¿t initially clear how they tied into the story of Kate Meaney and as it all unfolded I found myself spellbound.This book literally left me breathless and immobile with fear. I have not read a book this fantastic in a long time. It is completely different than the stuff I typically read and I am so glad to have accidentally rescued this gem from the trash.