I’m using the second month of the TBR dare to revisit authors or publishers who so impressed me first time around that a second helping was called for.
I ended my review of O’Flynn’s debut with the sentence “I look forward to her second”. That was true although I chose not to read it until my book group read her first. Hey ho. Sometimes good things must wait.
In What was Lost a young girl’s disappearance serves as a trigger to explore the superficiality of consumerism. In her second novel O’Flynn uses a fatal hit and run to examine the superficiality of celebrity. For the victim is an ageing TV celebrity – one who started as a reporter on the regional news but who progressed to become a national star. As age advances with its inevitable tribulations, said celebrity finds it increasingly difficult to accept his inexorable decline.
These facts are teased out, not by the police investigated the accident, but by the reporter who took over the victim’s role on the regional news. A family man, Frank, whose compassion towards those who die alone with noone to bury them, causes no end of personal hassle. His wife resents the time he spends attending their funerals and investigating the circumstances of their lonely deaths but Frank cannot let people go to their graves unmourned. When he begins to piece together the life and death of Michael Church, whose corpse was discovered on a public bench hours after he had died, surprising connections to the dead TV celebrity begin to appear ….
4 and a half years after reading What was Lost I still feel the emotional devastation of her character, Adrian. That same kind of devastating subtext can be found in these pages but it’s the not of an individual but of humankind. What remains after we have lost everything? Frank’s preoccupation is understandable – his father, absent during Frank’s childhood, sacrificed his family to his ambitions as an architect. While he succeeded in designing and building a number of prestigious buildings in Birmingham, now that Frank is raising a family of his own, those buildings are being demolished, one by one.
O’Flynn’s talent is taking such thought-provoking yet intrinsicly sad subjects and making them readable and entertaining. She injects warmth (Frank’s relationship with his daughter Mo is delightful) and humour (the appalling one-liners that Frank uses on the TV) into her pages. Frank’s mother, Maureen, provides a pragmatic outlook on the trials of old age, a healthy counterpoint to the celebrity’s defeatism. There’s also time to satirise the relationships and rivalries of co-TV presenters. Reading the novel isn’t half so painful as the conclusions it draws.
What remains after we have lost everything including our lives? Michael’s moving conclusion: Our absence is what remains of us.
That’s true of this novel also. I’ve missed it since the day I finished it. Must mean it’s a keeper.