What Was Lost by Catherine O'flynnWhat Was Lost by Catherine O'flynn

What Was Lost

byCatherine O'flynn

Paperback | April 5, 2011

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A lost little girl with a notebook and toy monkey appears on the CCTV screen of the Green Oaks shopping centre, evoking memories of junior detective, Kate Meaney, missing for twenty years. Kurt, a security guard with a sleep disorder and Lisa, a disenchanted deputy manager at Your Music, together become entranced by the little girl they keep glimpsing on the security cameras. As Kurt and Lisa’s after-hours friendship grows in intensity, it brings new loss and new longing to light.
Catherine O’Flynn was born in Birmingham in 1970. She has worked as a teacher, a web editor, and a postwoman, as well as a record store clerk. What Was Lost is her first novel.
Title:What Was LostFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 7.9 × 5 × 0.64 inPublished:April 5, 2011Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385671687

ISBN - 13:9780385671682


Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Great. I really didn't enjoy this book. The beginning was okay, it had a kind of "Harriet the Spy" feel to it (don't deny it - that was a great movie), but once the time period switched from 1984 to 2003, I was lost. I couldn't even tell whether this was panning out to be a ghost story or a romance. The only thing that kept me interested was finding out the big mystery... only to find it a big disappointment.
Date published: 2010-03-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What was Lost Kate Meaney is a ten year old girl who lives a solitary life; she fills her life with surveillance of banks and keeping notes in her detective's journal. Her pursuit in life is to prevent a bank robbery and to become a famous detective. She is pretty much left to herself and she wanders the streets and mall freely. Kate does befriend one girl at school in a distant sort of way and in the end Kate leaves this friend a priceless gift...the gift to escape her abusive life through education. This young ten year old detective one day disappears and her body is never found. An adult friend is taken in and questioned and blamed for the murder, but no proof is ever found, so no charges are ever laid. The book jumps back and forth from 1984, 2003 and 2004. The first part of the book has us following Kate around town with her stuffed monkey performing detective work; it is quite charming and heart breaking, because she is so isolated from real childhood. Kate disappears and then the book follows characters that were affected or involved in some way with her disappearance. I found myself laughing at some of the retail experiences in the book, they could only have been written by someone who has experienced the retail world first hand, and it turns out that Catherine O'Flynn at one time was a record store clerk. "What Was Lost" does have a depressing look out on regular everyday life and it seems to portray the idea that we all generally live in drudgery; hopefully we do find more joy in life than this book portrays. All in all it was a great story and it made me ponder about my life and the life of others and it has inspired me to “carpe diem”.
Date published: 2009-01-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from good first novel Kate is a budding dectetive, protecting her village from suspects and bad people, until she simply vanishes. Fast forward twenty years, and Kate seems to have returned. Her ghost appears to be wandering the mall where she did some of her best sluething. Touching, funny heartbreaking and utterly believable. An good first novel.
Date published: 2008-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a beautifully written first novel... Catherine O’Flynn’s debut novel, What Was Lost, is as labyrinthine as the tunnels under the Green Oaks Shopping Centre. Ten year old Kate Meany is an amateur detective, raised (until his sudden death) by an older, single father. In the novel’s opening third, we travel with Kate and her stuffed monkey, Mickey, as they conduct stakeouts, deliberate over office stationary for Kate’s fledgling detective agency, and pal around with Adrian, the 22 year old son of the man who runs the store next to Kate’s house. Flash forward almost 20 years and meet Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks and Lisa, a manager at ‘Your Music’ a big-box music store in the same mall (and not incidentally, Adrian’s younger sister). One night, while sleepily watching the security moniter, Kurt sees Kate. It’s not possible: Kate disappeared the year she was ten and was never found. Adrian, suspected of wrong-doing, but never charged, disappeared and made no contact with his family except for a mixed tape he sent to Lisa every year on her birthday. From these tangled threads, O’Flynn weaves an exceptionally good story about missed opportunities, luck, family and secrets. She even throws in a slightly gloomy (but fairly funny) picture of what it’s like to work in retail. O’Flynn’s real strength is in her characters. Kate Meany is a wholly believable and totally enchanting little girl. Lisa and Kurt are flawed and likable. O’Flynn manages to tell us everything we need to know about a character with a line or two - whole back stories come to life with a few carefully chosen words. Even minor characters spring to glorious life and create a picture of small town-life which is ultimately eroded by progress aka big impersonal malls. The story had an extra layer of meaning for me because it took place in the West Midlands of England and I once lived there. I am pretty sure that Green Oaks is actually Merry Hill, a huge shopping centre on the outskirts of Birmingham. If I have one niggle about the book, it comes at the end. I didn’t like part 42- it felt extraneous to me, like an unnecessary bow on a beautifully wrapped present. Had O’Flynn quit at the end of part 41, I think this little gem of a novel would have been damn near perfect.
Date published: 2008-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Novel? Amazing! Without a damning word, Ms O'Flynn captures the bleak, hopeless lives of residents of Birmingham, UK, circa 1950-80. How then does she find ways to portray humour, love, kindness - and, eventually, for some, Victory over tragedy. That is true literary genius; only question is - how can it be maintained in her future writing. Thanks, Catherine.
Date published: 2008-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Beautiful Book I couldn't put this book down. What a stunning debut novel. We start in 1984 with a detective named Kate. As we follow her on her rounds of surveillance (she is sure a bank heist is in the works) we find out she is only 9. The book grabs you right from the beginning with its wonderful writing and fascinating character of Kate and we learn why she is a detective. We then fast forward twenty years and meet Liz and Kurt. They work in a mall - duty manager at Your Music and a security guard respectively. There is some wonderful commentary on retail life that anyone who has ever worked retail will enjoy. These are two very interesting characters and we slowly learn how everyone in the novel weaves together. It is really a mystery of what happened to Kate but it is more than that - it is character driven and quirky and sad and touching as well. She remind me of Kate Atkinson (both Case Histories and Scenes Behind the Museum) which is definitely a compliment. I can't wait to read her next book. I simply loved this one.
Date published: 2008-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could not put it down! Oh wow - what an amazing little gem this book was! This was O'Flynn's debut novel. She's got a fan here that will be looking for her second. The novel opens in 1984 and we meet nine year old Kate Meaney. She is a bit of a loner, preferring adults to children her own age. One of her favourite adults is Adrian, the son of a local shopkeeper. Kate is determined to be a detective. This is the driving force of her days. She carries a notebook and makes observations of all the people and situations she comes across. She has staked out both her neighbourhood and the new mall, Green Oaks. She decides to concentrate her time on Green Oaks. She shares her sleuthing duties with her little stuffed monkey. Until....she disappears. O`Flynn's portrayal of this little girl is amazing. Her determination, earnestness, and curious mind are all vividly painted with words. I was somewhat reminded of Christopher - the main character in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. (Another really good read!) Fast forward to 2003 at the Green Oaks Mall. It has expanded and is very large now. Kurt works as a security guard on the night shift. One night he inexplicably see a young girl with a stuffed monkey on the security camera. When he searches, she is gone. Lisa, Adrian's sister works at a music store in the mall. Working late one night, she gets lost in the staff only corridors and finds a stuffed monkey lodged down by a pipe. Lisa and Kurt are both lonely and feel their lives are empty. They meet and their lives become connected by a long missing little girl. The development of the characters of Lisa and Kurt is excellent. As with Kate, you immediately feel a real sense of their lives. Having worked in retail hell for many years, I found O'Flynn's descriptions of the mall, it's workers and customers to be spot on, very funny at times, but also very sad. This book is as much about the mystery of what happened to Kate as it is about Karl and Lisa reclaiming their lives. O'Flynn was listed for many prizes for this debut novel - and rightly so!
Date published: 2008-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Haunting! What Was Lost is about how events left in the past can reach through time and grab us by the lapels in the present. As I read this book I was reminded of two other favourites of mine: Nicholas Hornby's High Fidelity and Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus. First set in the early 80s, you become introduced to a very likable Kate Meaney, 10 year old detective in training. Kate works diligently on becoming a proper detective, honing her surveillance methods watching people at the Green Oaks mall, while remaining invisible and innocuous herself... The second part takes place almost 20 years in the future, where you meet two new characters who not only work in the same mall, but also have connections to Kate and (possibly) to her unsolved disappearance, twenty years ago. These connections, as well as other secrets, are revealed as the characters deal with apparent appearances of a certain little girl in the mall. While I would not consider it a ghost story myself, it certainly is haunting and will leave you holding your breath as the final pages are turned. A great go for a first time writer and a definite read for the summer!
Date published: 2008-06-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting.... This story is about a girl named Kate who is determined to be a proper detective and solve a case (almost like Nancy Drew). She visits a mall, which is being scheduled for expansion and renovations, and lists the comings and goings of its patrons., hoping to stamp out crimes before they happen. Then one day she disappears.... The little girl Kate has the most clear and enjoyable parts out of all the characters in this novel.In a sense she represents "what was lost": the decay of old practices and traditions, and the simplicity of the past, which has been replaced by the busyness of urbanization/modernization. This book was kind of eerie, and I had to put it down a couple of times. I don't know if this was because the idea of Kate appearing to people, or if it's because the author writes about the conflicting idea of whether the way we are now is better than how we were in the past, through different characters in the novel. I really enjoyed the depictions of the customers of 'Your Music', and I think many people who have worked in retail at one point in their life know how accurate these scenes are to the truth (and hopefully give customers an idea of how it feels to be on the other side!).
Date published: 2008-06-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it! Just finished this and loved it! I was surprised by the amount of humour in it. I was laughing out loud at the account of a disgruntled mystery shopper. The characters were great and the way she portrayed each ones loneliness was so true to life and touching.
Date published: 2008-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A phenomenally touching collision Dancing between the 80s and the present with a deft touch, Catherine O'Flynn has crafted a phenomenal book here - one that first captures you by making you wonder what possible connection all these rich, wonderful characters could possibly have in common. The unfolding story, which has at its core a gratifying mystery with a superb solution, is still more character driven than a traditional mystery, and the almost painfully gentle collisions between the characters just left me awestruck at how fantastic and subtle the tale was told. I hope for more from O'Flynn, and will definitely keep my eyes open for it.
Date published: 2008-02-29

Read from the Book

1984Falcon Investigations1Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn’t be too late. The bus driver was keeping the bus at a steady 15 m.p.h., braking at every approaching green light until it turned red. She closed her eyes and continued the journey in her head as slowly as she could. She opened them, but still the bus lagged far behind her worst projection. Pedestrians overtook them, the driver whistled.She looked at the other passengers and tried to deduce their activities for the day. Most were pensioners and she counted four instances of the same huge, blue checked shopping bag. She made a note of the occurrence in her pad; she knew better than to believe in coincidences.She read the adverts on the bus. Most were adverts for adverts: ‘If you’re reading this, then so could your customers.’ She wondered if any of the passengers ever took out advertising space on the bus, and what they would advertise if they did.‘Come and enjoy my big, blue, checked shopping bag, it is filled with catfood.’‘I will talk to anyone about anything. I also eat biscuits.’‘Mr and Mrs Roberts, officially recognized brewers of the world’s strongest tea. “We squeeze the bag.”’‘I smell strange, but not unpleasantly.’Kate thought she would like to take out an advert for the agency. The image would be a silhouette of her and Mickey within the lens of a magnifying glass. Below, it would say:Falcon InvestigationsClues found. Suspects trailed. Crimes detected.Visit our office equipped with the latest surveillance equipment.She made another note in her pad of the phone number on the advert, to be rung at some later date when the office was fully operational.Eventually the bus reached the landscaped lawns and forlorn, fluttering flags of the light industrial estates that surrounded the newly opened Green Oaks Shopping Centre. She paid particular attention to unit 15 on the Langsdale Estate, where she had once witnessed what seemed to be an argument between two men. One man had a large moustache, the other wore sunglasses and no jacket on what had been a cold day — she’d thought they both looked of criminal character. After some deliberation and subsequent sightings of a large white van outside the unit, she had come to the conclusion that the two men were trafficking diamonds. Today all was quiet at the unit.She opened her pad at a page with ‘Unit 15 Surveillance’ written at the top. Next to that day’s date she wrote in the slightly jerky bus writing that dominated the page: ‘No sighting. Collecting another shipment from Holland?’Fifteen minutes later Kate was walking through the processed air of the Market Place of Green Oaks. Market Place wasn’t a market place. It was the subterranean part of the shopping centre, next to the bus terminals, reserved for the non-prestige, low-end stores: fancy goods stores, cheap chemists, fake perfume sellers, stinking butchers, flammable-clothes vendors. Their smells mingled with the smell of burnt dust from the over-door heaters and made her feel sick. This was as far as most of Kate’s fellow passengers ventured into the centre. It was the closest approximation of the tatty old High Street, which had suffered a rapid decline since the centre had opened. Now when the bus drove up the High Street no one liked to look at the reproachful boarded up doorways filled with fast-food debris and leaves.She realized that it was Wednesday and that she’d forgotten to buy that week’s copy of the Beano from her usual newsagent. She had no choice but to go to the dingy kiosk in the centre to get it. Afterwards she stood and looked again at the True Detective magazines on the shelf. The woman on the front didn’t look like a detective. She was wearing a trilby and raincoat . . . but nothing else. She looked like someone from a Two Ronnies sketch. Kate didn’t like it.She rode the escalator up to the ground floor, where the proper shops, the fountains and plastic palms began. It was the school holidays, but too early to be busy. None of her classmates was allowed to go to the centre without their parents. Sometimes she’d bump into a family group with one of her peers in tow and would exchange awkward greetings. She had picked up a sense that adults tended to be uncomfortable with her solo trips out and about, so now whenever questioned by shop assistant, security guard or parent she would always imply that an unspecified adult relative was just off in another store. Largely, though, no one questioned her, in fact no one ever really seemed to see her at all. Sometimes Kate thought she was invisible.It was 9.30 a.m. She retrieved her laboriously type­written agenda from her back pocket:09.30—10.45 Tandy: research walkie talkies and micro­phones10.45—12.00 general centre surveillance12.00—12.45 lunch at Vanezi’s12.45—13.30 Midland Educational: look at ink pads for fingerprinting13.30—15.30 surveillance by banks15.30 bus homeKate hurried on to Tandy.She was flustered to arrive at Vanezi’s restaurant a good twenty minutes past noon. This was not the way a professional operated. This was sloppy. She waited by the door to be seated, though she could see her table was still free. The same lady as usual took her to the same table as usual and Kate slid into the orange plastic booth which offered a view out over the main atrium of the centre.‘Do you need to see the menu today?’ asked the waitress.‘No thanks. Can I have the Children’s Special please with a banana float? And can I not have any cucumber on the beefburger, please?’‘It’s not cucumber, it’s gherkin, love.’Kate made a note of this in her pad: ‘Gherkins/cucumbers — not same thing: research difference.’ She’d hate to blow her cover on a Stateside mission with a stupid error like that.Kate looked at the big plastic tomato-shaped tomato-sauce dispenser on her table. They were one of her favourite things — they made total sense.At school last term, Paul Roberts had read out his essay, ‘The best birthday ever’, which culminated in his grand­parents and parents taking him out to Vanezi’s for dinner. He spoke of eating spaghetti with meatballs, which for some reason he and everyone else in the class had found funny. He was still excited as he rushed through his story of drinking ice-cream floats and ordering a Knicker­bocker Glory. He said it was brilliant.Kate couldn’t understand why he didn’t just take him­self there on a Saturday lunchtime if he liked it so much. She could even take him the first time and tell him the best place to sit. She could show him the little panel on the wall that you could slide back to reveal all the dirty plates passing by on a conveyor belt. She could tell him how one day she hoped to place some kind of auto-shutter action camera on the belt, which could travel around the entire restaurant taking surveillance shots unseen, before returning to Kate. She could point out the washing-up man who she thought might be murderous, and perhaps Paul could help her stake him out. She could maybe invite him to join the agency (if Mickey approved). But she didn’t say anything. She just wondered.She glanced around to check that no one could see, then she reached into her bag and pulled out Mickey. She sat him next to her by the window, so that the waitress wouldn’t notice, and where he had a good view of the people below. She was training Mickey up to be her partner in the agency. Generally Mickey just did surveillance work. He was small enough to be unobtrusive despite his rather outlandish get-up. Kate liked Mickey’s outfit even though it meant he didn’t blend in as well as he might. He wore a pin-striped gangster suit with spats. The spats slightly spoiled the Sam Spade effect, but Kate liked them anyway; in fact she wanted a pair herself.Mickey had been made from a craft kit called ‘Sew your own Charlie Chimp the Gangster’ given to Kate by an auntie. Charlie had languished along with all of Kate’s other soft toys throughout most of her childhood, but when she’d started up the detective agency last year she thought he looked the part. Charlie Chimp was no good though. Instead he became Mickey the Monkey. Kate would run through their agenda with him each morning and he always travelled with her in the canvas army surplus bag.The waitress brought the order. Kate ate the burger and perused the first Beano of the new year, while Mickey kept a steady eye on some suspicious teenagers below.2Kate lived a bus journey away from Green Oaks. Her home was in the only Victorian block of houses left in the area, a red-brick three-storey outcrop which looked uncomfortable amidst the grey and white council-built cuboids. Kate’s house was sandwiched between a news­agent’s shop on one side, and a butcher and greengrocer on the other. Her house had clearly also been a shop once, but now a net curtain hung across the front window and what had been the shop was a sitting room where Kate’s grand­mother spent her long afternoons watching quiz shows.The house was the only one in the block not to function as a business (aside from Kate’s putative agency operation), and it was also the only one used as a home. None of her shopkeeper neighbours lived above their shops; at around six o’clock each evening they would shut up and depart for their semis in the suburbs, leaving silence and emptiness on all sides of Kate’s room.Kate knew and liked the shopkeepers well. The green­grocer’s was run by Eric and his wife Mavis. They had no children, but they were always kind to Kate and bought her a surprisingly well-judged Christmas present each year. Last year it had been a Spirograph, which Kate had used to make a professional-looking logo on her business cards. Now her time was taken up with the agency and constant surveillance activity, Kate had less time to visit the couple, but still once a week she would pop in for a cup of tea and, swinging her legs from the stool behind the counter, she would listen to Radio 2 and watch the customers buy vast quantities of potatoes.Next to Eric and Mavis was Mr Watkin the butcher. Mr Watkin was an old man, Kate estimated probably seventy-eight. He was a nice man with a nice wife, but very few people bought their meat from him any more. Kate thought this possibly had something to do with the way Mr Watkin stood in his shop window swatting flies against the sides of meat with a large palette knife. It was also perhaps a self-perpetuating situation, in that the fewer customers Mr Watkin had, the less meat he stocked, and the less meat he had, the less he looked like a butcher, and the more he looked like a crazy old man who collected and displayed bits of flesh in his front window. The previous week Kate had passed the window to see it contained only a single rabbit (and Kate was sure the only person alive who still ate rabbit was in fact Mr Watkin himself), some kidneys, a chicken, a side of pork and a string of sausages. This in itself was nothing too remarkable for Mr Watkin, but what caused Kate to stop and stare was an apparent new marketing initiative by the butcher. Evidently he had become a little embarrassed by the minimal nature of his window displays and so perhaps in order to make them seem less odd (and this is where Kate felt he’d really miscalculated), he had arranged the items in a jaunty tableau. Thus it appeared that the chicken was taking the rabbit for a walk by its lead of sausages, over a hillock of pork under a dark red kidney sun. Kate looked up from the grisly scene to see Mr Watkin nodding at her in amazement from inside the shop, thumbs aloft, as if taken aback by his own flair.On the other side of Kate’s house was Mr Palmer the newsagent. Mr Palmer worked alongside his son Adrian, who was the closest Kate had to a best friend, and was also the first and so far only client of Falcon Investigations. Adrian was twenty-two and had been to university. Mr Palmer had wanted Adrian to get a ‘proper career’ after graduation, but Adrian had no such ambitions, and was happy to spend his days reading behind the counter and helping to run the small business. The Palmer family lived in a modern semi on the outskirts of town, but the mother and sister rarely visited the shop — sweet selling was left to the men of the family. Adrian treated Kate like an adult, but then Adrian treated everyone the same. He wasn’t capable of putting on a different face for different customers as his father did. Mr Palmer could switch from an avuncular ‘Now then, young man’, to an utterly sincere ‘Such a shocking headline, isn’t it, Mrs Stevens?’ in seconds.But, whatever Adrian’s enthusiasms were, he tended to assume they were shared by all, or at least would be if he spread the word. He spent his afternoons buried in the NME or reading books about musicians. He would earnestly recommend albums to his customers, seemingly blind to the improbability of Mrs Docherty suddenly switching from Foster and Allen to the MC5, or Debbie Casey and her giggling teenage pals ever finding much of significance in Leonard Cohen. As soon as Mr Palmer left him alone in the shop, Jimmy Young’s radio show would be switched off and Adrian would slip a tape into the tinny radio cassette player. He thought that the reason no one ever asked him what was playing was because they were a little shy, so he would always put a scrawled sign on the counter: ‘Now Playing: Captain Beefheart, Lick My Decals Off, Baby. For more information just ask a member of staff’.

Editorial Reviews

"Skewers our consumer society in all its absurdity and terrible sadness, while deftly interweaving a tender and heartbreaking personal narrative. A great debut novel from an awesomely talented writer."—Jonathan Coe"An exceptional, polyphonic novel of urban disaffection, written with humour and pathos. Kate’s deceptively jaunty diary reveals a consumer-driven society choking on its own loneliness; a ghost story; and an examination of unspeakable loss."—Guardian (UK)"An enthralling tale of a little girl lost, wrapped in a portrait of a changing community over two decades. What binds it all together so impressively is O’Flynn’s emotional articulacy, which captures life’s sad, strange absurdities and glosses them with a kind of nobility."—Observer (UK)