I’m torn by this book. Had I read it knowing nothing about the author, I probably would have thought “Odd…some bits good, some a bit ridiculous….”. But that’s not the way it worked out. A few weeks ago, I watched Australian Story. For my overseas readers, Australian Story is a weekly half-hour doco, featuring a story about an Australian – sometimes unsung heroes, sometimes ordinary people dealing with extraordinary issues. My husband loves this show. I don’t. The reason I don’t is because 95% of time it’s about people dying, usually children or parents. My husband disputes this but nonetheless, a few minutes into watching each week, I wander into the living room and ask “Who died this time?”. And he usually answers.
Then a fortnight ago my husband says “You should watch Australian Story this week, it’s about an author.” Excellent! *remembering the Australian Story episode about Hannah Kent*
So I watch.
The author’s mother was killed in a terrible, freak accident. *Australian Story theory upheld*
Lost and Found is her tribute to her mother, her way of grieving.
And the author goes and creates a sweet, dear, heartbreaking character in Millie – a seven-year-old whose dad has died and whose mum has abandoned her, and who leaves little notes everywhere that say things like I’M HERE MUM and BACK SOON MUM, and honestly, how can I cope?*
“She soon noticed that everything was dying around her. Bugs and oranges and Christmas trees and houses and letterboxes and train rides and textas and candles and old people and young people and people in between. She wasn’t to know that after she recorded twenty-seven assorted creatures in her Book of Dead Things – Spider, The Bird, Grandma, next door’s cat Gertrude, among others – her dad would be a Dead Thing, too. That she’d write it next to the number twenty-eight in letters so big they took up two pages: MY DAD.”
“It’s important to have your mum. Mums bring you jackets and turn on your electric blanket before you get into bed and always know what you want better than you do. And sometimes they let you sit on their lap and play with the rings on their fingers while ‘Deal or No Deal’ is on.”
“But you should be able to hug all the mums who aren’t yours, because some people don’t have mums and what are they supposed to do with all the hugs they have?”
At face value, Lost and Found is a story about a little girl trying to find her mum, assisted by two elderly strangers – Karl, a nursing home escapee, and Agatha, who’s reclusive and cranky. Deeper themes are explored through each character – death, love, companionship – these themes are equally relevant for each character but executed using different sets of circumstances and back-stories. Clever.
But things went awry when I was introduced to the character Agatha, whose full name is Agatha Pantha. It’s a silly (not ‘quirky’) name and it grated on me after the exquisite and delicate introductory chapters told from Millie’s point of view (for those not familiar, Agapanthus are prolific large, flowering plants that are classified as a weed in many parts of Australia).
And the character of Karl the Touch Typist – I loved him – but I didn’t love his sidekick, Manny.
And the shenanigans of this trio of characters sometimes bordered on comical – slap-stick high jinx.
And I kept coming back to the fact that there is an abandoned seven-year-old at the heart of it all… And… And… My daughter is seven and the thought of her being left on her own in a shopping centre, even for a nanosecond, makes my stomach clench and my throat close in fear. Ultimately, I can’t find the humour in that situation.
3/5 It’s a hit (Millie) and a miss (Agatha). Karl evens out the extremes.
I received my copy of Lost and Found from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
*Will never watch Australian Story again