A few months ago I snuck into a packed-out, quiet room where Brooke Davis and Favel Parrett spoke with Courtney Collins. These soft-spoken young women held the audience at the Newcastle Writers Festival spellbound as they talked about writing and life, and telling a story “through the eyes of a child”. I’ve reviewed Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows and Courtney Collins’ The Burial, and it’s high time I completed the trio with Brooke Davis’ debut novel, Lost and Found.
Davis gives us the story of seven-year-old Millie, who discovers her dog dead on the road, then witnesses the death of a old man hit by a car. She receives rather confusing explanations from her parents about these events, and as she notices other things dying around her, begins to record them.
She wasn’t to know that after she had 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.
Through Millie’s eyes we see her mother falling apart, though she doesn’t fully understand what’s happening, culminating in Millie’s abandonment at a department store. Her mother tells her to stand right near the Ginormous Women’s Undies and says, I’ll be right back. It’s the last we or Millie see of her.
Millie hides out in the department store and befriends eighty-seven year old Karl the Touch Typist in the store cafe, who is adrift since losing the love of his life. When store employees discover Millie’s predicament and call authorities, Karl helps her escape. Completing the main cast is Agatha Pantha, who lives across the street from Millie’s house. She’s an angry eighty-two year old who hasn’t left her house since her husband died, but is reluctantly drawn into looking after Millie. The three embark on a journey to find Millie’s mum, but discover there’s more to life than they expected.
The language of Lost and Found is beguiling. Millie’s voice is fresh with lack of self-consciousness, and an internal logic that comes from observation and limited information. Karl is more at home pretending to type words than saying them; his internal monologues reveal his longing to be more than he is. Agatha’s outbursts at everyone and everything hide a deep anxiety and pain that she keeps at bay only with her anger.
It’s a story about death and loss, how we hide from it, how we deal with it or refuse to deal with it. It’s also a story about the extremes of age, the young and the old, and how those in between can fail to treat our children and elders like real people with loves, fears, hopes and dreams as important as our own.
Though Lost and Found is written in the viewpoint of all three characters, I have to confess to a preference for the Millie sections. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of her losses and sadness, she maintains her hope. Ultimately it is her hope and naive longing to be reunited with her mother, in contrast with Karl’s almost despairing determination and Agatha’s reluctant intervention, that drives their journey, allowing them to see past their own pain and ultimately find comfort.
Lost and Found has won the General Fiction Book Of The Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2015, and the Matt Richell New Writer Of The Year 2015. It has also been shortlisted for Debut Fiction, Indie Book Awards 2015, and the Australian Booksellers Association Neilsen BookData Booksellers Choice Award 2015
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett, Review
The Burial by Courtney Collins, Review