A lost little girl with her detective notebook and toy monkey appears on the CCTV screens of the Green Oaks shopping centre, evoking memories of Kate Meaney, missing for twenty years. Kurt, a security guard with a sleep disorder, and Lisa, a disenchanted deputy manager at Your Music, follow glimpses of the girl through the centre’s endless corridors – a welcome change from dealing with awkward customers, colleagues and the Green Oaks mystery shopper. But as this after-hours friendship grows in intensity, it brings new loss and new longing to light.
The first time I read this book I did so in a twelve-hour single sitting, the writing style and the with the all too familiar take on retail, which I spent years in, were both compelling and moving. What Was Lost is a gritty and melancholy read with touches of humour that really hit the spot for those looking for a bit of mystery set in an all too familiar locale.
The story itself switches between two different threads, those of Kate Meaney (private investigator), and Kurt and Lisa, set twenty years later. The story’s strengths lies in the wonderfully well-written characters and the differences in attitude, both in terms of the time periods and the characters within them.
The Green Oaks shopping centre is a character in itself, much like the island in the TV show Lost, it pulls people into it and changes lives. It’s a monument to the staggering waste of time, heart and effort spent in these places for both workers and shoppers.
Throughout the book the reader gets to see the changes in shopping habits, as well as some of the politics of both time periods, and all of this whilst Green Oaks grows bigger and the urban decay – much of which is precipitated by the out of town shopping centre itself spreads outwards. Communities and the high street are much changed as a result.
Although the colours are bleached away as life fades into bleak monotony, there are some genuinely funny bits scattered throughout that raise a smile, and O’Flynn always manages to point out a few of those little beautiful details that flourish in spite of their surroundings.
What Was Lost is a book of observances about the human condition, of lives caught up in the gravitational pull of the Centre. At points the narrative is interspersed by anonymous vignettes of live in and around the centre which add even ore atmosphere to a book filled with tragedy, secrets, and the sad reality of wasted lives.