I love original Australian literary voices and I’ve found a new one I fancy … Brooke Davis., a prize-winning writer of fiction with a PhD from Curtin University in WA. Lost and Found is, in her words, her ‘first proper novel’ and what a corker it is. My little margin notes include lots of ohs and wows, *s and !s, omgs and clevers.
Incidentally, Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, which I reviewed here, also emerged from the same program at Curtin University as Lost and Found.
Lost and Found is about life and love and loss. It’s about character, in all meanings of the word (Collins English Dictionary: a combination of qualities, one such quality, reputation, representation of a person, an outstanding person and [even] a symbol used in writing [refer to Karl the Touch Typist]).
After I read the story, I realised what a great job Christabella Designs have done with the cover design. Perfection.
Let me introduce you to Davis’s characters:-
Millie is a little abandoned girl with spunk and attitude and a way with words. When Millie saw an old man killed (hit by a car) “He looked back at her like he was only a drawing. She ran her fingers over his wrinkles and wondered what he’d used each one for.”(5)
Millie is trying to find a place for herself in the world, endeavouring to understand why adults act the way they do. She ruminates on existing words and why you can’t use them all. Without a guiding book, “you were just supposed to know” (104-105) which words were not okay.
Examples of things you weren’t allowed to say, to anyone, at any time:
How fat are you?
Do you have a vagina or a penis?
What kind of funeral do you want when you die? (105)
Karl the Touch Typist
Karl grieves for his wife. “It felt strange to breathe when she couldn’t.” (20) He touch-types on all manner of apparatus, from thin air to small children’s heads. Wondering about himself, about his life, about his place in the world, Karl thinks that “In the world of punctuation, he might have been a dash – floating, in between, not necessarily required.” (87) What a delightfully clever gem of a sentence that is.
Agatha has been alone for years, trapped in her house with television static, yelling to everyone and no-one as she moves between her Chairs: of Disbelief, of Degustation, of Discernment, of Resentment, of Disagreement, of Disengagement. Agatha’s dissertation on funerals and their aftermath of people “hulking casseroles full of dead animals, and pity” and materialising in her house, “cocking their head to one side and clawing at her” (53-54) is both hilarious and sad.
These three beautifully sketched characters – Millie, Karl and Agatha – collide; their personalities and peccadillos bouncing around off one another, forming a vortex of comedic possibilities.
The dieting Helen:
“The Atkins one? Is it Atkins? Or CSIRO? You get to smell all the food you want.” (41).
While purchasing cake: “They’re not for me, Helen says. I’m on a diet. The North Beach one? Kate Moss uses it. You can hold all the food you like.” (44)
Manny: Yes, he might be plastic but he has a definite presence (with or without all his limbs).
Karl’s wife Evie left him a pouch of letters – F I G T R O O – a mystery for him to solve, a life puzzle perhaps? Evie was a calm and stable person:
Every word felt measured out, like she’d poured her words into measuring cups and flattened out the tops of them before she upended them into the world. (167)
Stella is a platinum-hearted bus driver who has a bath in which, according to Mille, one can make “entire cities out of bubbles”. (136)
Lost and Found is a showcase for Davis’s superb sense of humour, her perfect grasp of craft, and an originality that makes me positively green.
The structure is interesting. In part one, the ‘Millie’ chapters are divided into the days of waiting, interspersed with facts that she knows. Agatha’s time is broken into days and, within those days, into sections of time. And Karl is sectioned by things that he knows: things he knows about love, for example, and things he knows about sadness.
Davis knows how to worry away at your heart-strings, like when Millie has an overwhelming urge to snuggle up to a woman who “smells like a mum” (183)
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? (183)
It’s a page-turner too. Just like Millie, we feel compelled to find her mother. But it also becomes increasingly important to find out the meaning of the jumble of letters Karl’s wife left for him.
There was a point (about half way through part three) where I wondered if the story had become a bit too farcical. Karl and Agatha start yelling on the train, Derek the conductor is stamping his foot and throwing paper, and Manny is flung over Karl’s shoulder. It was just a little too slapstick for a few pages and it’s just not a style I’m comfortable with. The writing here seemed very visual, clashing a little with the rest of the novel. I also thought it took a detour into some sort of ‘Kids Own Adventure Tale’ with Millie and her friend Jeremy each taking on Superhero status. Minor quibble and I’d be interested to know if anyone else agrees.
I love how Agatha’s rigid time frames (e.g. “6.25: Pours the remainder of her Bonox down the sink. 6.26: Removes all her clothes” (68)), goes through various degrees of rigidity before segueing to “Morning(ish) Agatha Standard Time” (252).
And you’ve just got to check out Millie’s idea of constructing a poem. Brilliant. I can’t stop doing it myself now … in the supermarket, on the train. Delicious fun.
Reviewing for The West Australian, Ian Nichols writes: “The painstaking care that went into the novel is evident in the poetic, economical prose.”
Rosemarie Milsom (for Newcastle Herald) wasn’t always fond of Davis’s supporting cast of “quirky, laconic characters” and found Manny to be a “jarring” inclusion (conversely, I loved them, especially Manny).
The novel generated a big buzz at the London Book Fair and has been sold around the world, being translated into 20 languages.
Davis, Brooke Lost & Found, Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2014.
ISBN: 978 0 7336 3275 4
Thanks to Lisa Hill at ANZLitlovers (where my review is cross-posted) for the opportunity to review this gem of a book.