This novel is a series of vignettes that follow each of the characters as the thing that they value most disappears, and they search for it. Each story intertwines with the others as they circle through London trying, sometimes desperately, to find what was lost to them.
For Mrs. Featherby, it was her wall. Cassie was left by the girl she loved most. Delia started getting lost even doing something as simple as crossing the street. Robert’s place of employment disappeared one morning. Marcus’ piano keys left his piano behind. And Jake—Jake is losing his memory of the day his mother died, and he and his father are both becoming ghosts to each other.
It would be easy to say that this book is Janina Matthewson’s way of examining what society places value on and how that separates people from each other. I pondered this for a time after finishing the book, but what she is doing is simpler than that. She’s examining loss, how it feels to lose what is most important to you and the struggle of redefining yourself afterward, as well as the refocusing of your life from the things that are missing to what is more important and what’s been ignored.
Structurally, the vignettes vary in length, from four to six pages to just a few lines. This keeps the reader engaged in each of the stories, as the characters begin meeting each other or seeing glimpses of the other characters. This adds to the reader’s feeling of recognition as the characters begin to work within one another’s stories. As a reader, you feel these characters’ losses as they are searching for what is most important to them.
Jake’s story stands out from the rest of the characters; he is certain that he’s already lost everything that matters to him with the loss of his mother, and he’s discovered that he has an ability to discover how things were lost just by holding them. He begins looking for lost things to ease the sense that he’s losing himself. When showing his collection of lost things he says: “I don’t want to return them. They’re lost. Lost things are lost. But know I whose they are. I can tell” (page 216). And that is the message that Matthewson is able to convey in her debut novel, lost things are lost. We shouldn’t spend time searching for something that has gone missing because often it’s something that is distracting us from the more important things in life.
The novel, and each of the vignettes, ends without concluding anything, nobody finds what has been lost to them, but they each learn how to redefine themselves without what they’ve lost. With a control of language and structure, Janina is able to immerse readers into an eccentric world and make it believable, as if one day, your own front wall, your sense of direction, your piano keys, an entire building, or the person that you care about most could disappear into thin air.
Recommendation: Read this book if you like multiple points of view, if you like winding stories, or if you’ve ever lost something important.