What Was Lost by Kathy O'Flynn
A bumper summer "two for one" review today. These two books came to me at different times but I somehow ended up reading them back to back. Both received very good reviews when they first came out and both are debut novels by new female writers.
The Lovely Bones is narrated by a dead young girl, a murdered girl in fact, and is narrated from heaven. Sebold has chosen an interesting narrative viewpoint from which to investigate the effects of death on those left behind by a violent death and she makes the structure work to good effect but by announcing the murder, the murderee, and the murderer at the very outset she seems to eschew any element of mystery.
Kathy O'Flynn on the other hand begins by introducing us to a little girl who fancies herself a detective as she mooches around a shopping centre taking notes, following people and almost willing a crime to happen. In doing so, O'Flynn takes time to make us empathise with this youngster and to understand her and then we begin to imagine and to savour a broad potentiality. O'Flynn paints her protagonist's life, family, friends and motivation sympathetically whilst leaving us wondering about some of the slightly strange figures who people her odd everyday experience and it is this depth and this strangeness that encourages out imagination.
Sebold attempts manfully to imagine a heaven that our murdered girl inhabits and from which she watches over the trauma and disjoint that her death leaves in its wake - and intervenes in on occasion. It is her failure to convince in the matter of this imaginary heaven that is the downfall of the book. Suspending my atheism as best I could did still not allow me to find Sebold's heaven feasible and I fear that many readers will have the same problem.
Rather than an imaginary heaven O'Flynn moves the second part of her novel into the all too real shopping centre (mall) that our girl detective has haunted in the first part where a similar all seeing perspective is drawn from the myriad of CCTV cameras. Where Sebold's narrative conceit becomes more arbitrary, whimsical and sentimental O'Flynn's becomes more realistic, gritty, and believable and whereas Sebold exercises her own imagination O'Flynn gets us to exercise ours.
Thus we have two debut novels by young women about dead young girls both of which use interesting structures to unveil the same scenario - death and its aftermath. Whereas I shall give Sebold another chance should I come across her next novel I shall actively seek out more work by O'Flynn.