Morning all! I am so, so pleased to be bringing this book to you today. I have adopted this state of heightened excitement because in this book I have found an Australian equivalent to one of my all time favourites, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. That book had all the things I love in a novel – old people, an obscure quest and dry humour. The book I present to you today has all that and more – not just old people, but shouty, rude old people. Not a simple obscure quest but an obscure quest involving a one-legged shop mannequin. And not just dry humour, but…well, lots of dry humour. I give you Lost and Found by Brooke Davis. Double points for Australian authorage.
I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of this title from Hachette Australia for review, but I have to go and buy it in hardback anyway now, and put it on the “special” shelf to be watched over by my book-guarding minions.
Lost and Found follows the (slightly tragicomical) story of Millie Bird, a seven-year-old with a preoccupation for dead things, a father who has recently become a dead thing, and a mother who has abandoned her in the underwear section of a department store. We first meet Millie in said underwear department as she waits for her mother’s return under the watchful eye of Manny the hawaiian-shirt-wearing mannequin across the aisle. Partway into Millie’s eventful waiting, she meets Karl the touch typist, an octogenarian widower who spends his days sitting in the department store cafe, silently grieving his dear departed Evie. Shortly after Millie escapes from the department store (and, simultaneously, from the social services) with the help of Karl, we are introduced to Agatha Pantha, a widow who has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago, and who fills her time with such productive measures as the keeping of a daily record of her physical signs of ageing, and the shouting of remarkably personal insults at passers-by from her lounge-room window. As the social services close in, Agatha and Millie make an attempt to follow Millie’s mum, using an itinerary left behind in the house. Along the way they join forces with Karl and together the three (well, technically four – Manny ends up along for the ride too) evade the law and try to find Millie a home.
Read it if:
* you’ve ever felt a real and personal connection to a shop mannequin (in any sort of attire)
* you hope to grow old disgracefully and take up a life of geriatric delinquency
* you like to ponder the big questions, such as “Where do parking inspectors go when they die?” and “Has my arm flab increased by more than a millimetre since yesterday?”
* you believe (as I do) that if we were all allowed to shout insulting things at other people when we are having a bad day (month/year/life) then navigating a path through everyday social situations would suddenly become a lot more interesting
Aaaaaahhhhhh. That is the sound of contented sighing when, after reading only 2% of the Kindle version of this book, I knew that it and I were resonating on the same frequency. This book is by turns delightful, sad, poignant, hilarious and a bit off-putting. The off-putting bit relates to a reasonably graphic description of old-people sex, in case you’re wondering. It is the book that I was hoping The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin was going to be, but whereas the characters and situations in that book annoyed me and seemed trite and contrived, the characters in Lost and Found just jumped off the page in a comfortable mix of idiosyncracies.
I could imagine that some readers might find Karl and Agatha (and especially Millie, in her precocious innocence) a bit contrived and annoying, but for me they were perfectly constructed and I just fell in love. I loved Karl’s rebellious spirit and commitment to tagging public (and private!) property in popular 1980’s parlance. I laughed my guts out at Agatha’s compulsion to shout the awkwardly anti-social obvious (“Assymetrical face!” “Stupid shoes!”) and I cheered inwardly at Millie’s determination to play the Angel of Existentialism by adopting the persona of Captain Funeral for her captive fellow train passengers.
While the characters embark on what feels like an epic journey, I knocked the book over in a couple of decent sittings because it was one of those stories that had me continually thinking, “I’ll just read one more chapter/to the next page break/until Agatha shouts something next”. Inevitably, I was drawn ever-deeper into the increasingly complex (and somewhat ridiculous) web of deception and evasion of public officials that Karl, Agatha and Millie spin. Like the book itself, the ending is at once poignant and light, inevitable and satisfying and one designed to keep the three main characters in the reader’s mind, while accepting that this too shall pass.
All in all, Lost and Found is a five star read has earned a place on my list of favourites. As soon as someone takes the hint and buys me a hardback copy of Harold Fry, I will place these two side by side on my shelf as a tribute to humour in the midst of a finite existence.
Until next time (Reads too slow! Dried out eyeballs! Yawning at inappropriate moments!),