Today’s read-it-if features a very unusual book. With multiple points of view and interconnected yet mildly bewildering stories, Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson is part anthology, part unified narrative and thoroughly engaging, once you get past the first few loss-beleaguered chapters.
Delia can’t seem to find her way to places that were once as familiar as the back of her hand. Jake collects and catalogues lost and discarded items that he finds in the street. Mrs Featherby is missing the front wall of her house. Robert turned up to work one day to find the building had disappeared. And Cassie is turning into a tree in the middle of Heathrow Terminal Two Arrivals. As these wildly different characters, and others, try to come to terms with their various obscure conditions, their stories become entangled in different ways. What once was lost may never be found for this motley group…or it may just be that they have gone temporarily astray.
Read it if:
*your standard response to being thrust unexpectedly into public view is to carry on as if nobody can see what you’re doing
* you are one of those people who, upon realising that you cannot for the life of you find what it is you’re looking for, makes little tutting noises before going on to complain loudly about how modern supermarkets should just leave things where they are instead of changing everything about to try and get us to buy things we didn’t come in for
* you’ve ever patted yourself on the back for helping a stranger who’s asked for directions, only to realise a few moments later that there were at least three other ways to get to the destination that are quicker, safer and less complex than the way you told them to go
After reading the blurb of this book, I was initially under the impression that it was a collection of short stories. As it turns out – rather obviously in fact, given that the words “a novel” appear on the front cover – Of Things Gone Astray is actually a single novel, but it’s told from the alternating points of view of half a dozen characters. In the first few chapters we are introduced to these characters in turn, and discover to some extent what it is that they have lost – for in this novel, everyone has lost something. Or someone. Or they’re waiting for something or someone. I found it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who was who as the point of view shifts every few pages with each new chapter. Is Martin the bloke with the missing piano keys or the bloke with the missing job, I would ask myself as I came across his chapter heading. Is Cassie the tree girl or the disoriented girl? Once the story gets going and the characters start bumping into each other, as it were, it was a lot easier to keep everything sorted in my mind, and by the end I had each character down pat.
I thoroughly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and the multiple points of view in this book, as I feel I am slipping into a bit of a book slump of late, and I appreciated the choppy, quick dips into each characters’ tale that allowed me to pick the book up and put it down repeatedly without feeling like the plot wasn’t moving forward. The narrative has a certain sense of poignancy about it, dealing as it does with ways in which people cope with loss, but there was also a sense of hope and even ambiguity that pervaded the book. I felt at the end that some people might be a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any kind of moral or take-away message about dealing with grief or moving on from loss, but I felt very content with the fact that the stories just ended, some with loose ends tied up and some without.
I don’t think this book will be for everybody, but if you don’t mind something a bit different from the usual linear, one-narrator type novel then Of Things Gone Astray might be the perfect out-of-the-box find for you. Don’t forget to go into it with bookmark at the ready though – you wouldn’t want to lose your place.
Until next time,
. * I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss. *