by Brooke Davis
Published by Hachette, 2014
I loved this book. Like many people who’ve read it, I found it warmed my heart, tickled my funny bone and made me think, deeply.
Lost & Found is the story of seven year old Millie Bird, Eighty-seven year old Karl the touch-typist and Eighty-two year old Agatha Pantha. They are an unlikely trio, with unlikely names who get into all sorts of unlikely situations during a road trip in search of Millie’s mother. Everyone in this story has been left behind, even the minor characters, but the texture of each person’s grief is unique. Sometimes it is smooth and reflective and you can feel their grief because it would be your own. Other times it is like the nap of velvet; look at it one way and you see a woman who has lost her husband, look at it another and you see a woman who has lost her self.
Lost & Found is a funny book about grief and loneliness, and, as unlikely as it all is, it worked for me. The poignancy of loss, experienced by each character at the start of the story, is not dulled by the playfulness of Brooke Davis’s style. Rather it hums like a base note throughout, and I never felt the seriousness of the themes was overpowered by the melody of the story. I can’t imagine this book without the sweetness of that melody – with so much loss, it would be an unbearable read.
There is little more I can tell you about the plot without re-writing it, and I have not the talent of Brooke Davis. So instead I want to alert the prospective reader to another far more subtle pleasure of Lost & Found – it’s celebration of words.
Throughout her book, Brooke Davis plays with, explores and venerates words. They are not just the vehicle by which she travels along this story; they are the scenery, the background music, the glue that binds her characters. Karl’s fingers habitually type out every word he says, and his pockets are full of dashes stolen from computer key boards. On their own, they have no value, but he arranges them to spell out the words I AM HERE, imbuing the dashes, and his elderly , invisible self, with meaning.
Agatha insists that any observation she makes with a ring of wisdom to it be written down immediately – ‘Never trust a woman skinnier than you!’ she shouts to Millie and Karl, then, ‘Write that down!’
For Millie, the words of strangers are curiosities she collects into poems as she walks through the carriage of a train – ‘Sandwiches / What? / and curtains / read this / potatoes’ . Words are also the cause of much confusion, and source of all her hope – IN HERE MUM she writes, over and over again.
The sound of words, their shape and flavour, are important to Brooke Davis, and I think Lost & Found is an ode to their power and potential. This is just one of many descriptions that brought me joy:
They yell outside the bakery, the supermarket, the pubs and in the main thoroughfare, chopping at words as though throwing their sentences into a blender.
Despite being a best-seller, this book is not universally loved, but neither is the sound of a Mr Whippy van, or the taste of ice cream on a hot day, or the scent of Jasmine at the end of a long wet winter. Some can’t get past the cute names, peculiar stereotypes and comically absurd situations, to appreciate the deeper reflections on ageing and love, on depression and devastating loss, on redemption, acceptance and gratitude. Or, on the power of words to hurt and to heal. I am reminded of the adage that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down – there is serious intent in this book, and it has been delivered in the most delightful way.
Produced and recorded for Radio Northern Beaches, Sydney