Lost and Found is the debut novel of Australian writer Brooke Davies. It centres around seven year old Millie Bird as she tries to find her mother who abandoned her in the underwear section of a department store. Along the way Millie befriends the eighty seven year old Karl “The Touch Typist,” the eighty two year old Agatha Pantha and very plastic Manny (a shop dummy). It is an unlikely cast who find a connection both through grief and adventure.
With incredible deftness Brooke Davies manages to create three very believable characters. Each one comes with their own experiences and observations about the world and Brooke revels in exploring the world from the different perspectives. Millie’s naivety and inquisitiveness allows her to ponder such things as what an old man “used each [wrinkle] for” and ask where people who are “good and bad” go to when they die. Agatha Pantha, meanwhile, keeps a diary to record details of her own aging, from 6:05 to 6:45 she sits in the “Chair of Disbelief” every day and measures “Cheek Elasticity, Distance From Nipples To Waist, Foreign Hair Growth, Wrinkle Count, Projected Wrinkle Trajectory, and Arm Wobblage.” While Agatha’s response to age, grief and loneliness is to shut herself away from the world and attempt to record it as it passes her by, Karl “The Touch Typist” is eager to finally start living. He relishes in the opportunities to be rebellious and youthful, getting into scrapes with younger men, vandalising property, stealing and being hunted by the police. In one very amusing scene Karl, who has started to imagine his life as a movie, shows considerable disappointment at not needing to jump out of a moving train because it’s stopped at a station.
The strong characters are accompanied by delicious prose. When Millie collects tea lights and uses them to decorate a tree in tribute to her father the novel turns into something of a fairy tale: “The candles in the tree gently swayed and those on the ground flickered. There were stars in the sky and now it looked like there were stars in the tree and on the ground, as if Millie had made a starry night sky out of the whole world. She stood up and strolled around her sky, wondering if her dad was doing the same, all the way up there.” It is a pivotal scene, one that Brooke Davies immediately undercuts with tragic irony, and a great example of how the novel manages to combine comedy, beauty and tragedy.
Overall Lost and Found is a delightful exploration of the universality of certain human emotions. The context for their grief and loneliness might be different, as is their way of understanding it, but all three characters feel it and all three find it easier to tackle together. This is a novel about those who get left behind and how they respond, but the colourful cast of characters gives it a lightness that makes it a heart-warming tale rather than one that becomes too overpowered by the melancholic notes that run underneath it. While Lost and Found is not without its moments of darkness it never wallows in it, instead touching upon it with a lightness of touch that makes it a thoroughly engaging read. It is definitely a book that can be found on your library book shelves!
By Mark Ulrich (Uxbridge Library)