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Sunday, 12 September 2010

Book Review: Lost by Gregory Maguire

Lost is a book I came across accidentally because some fool had erroneously placed it in the Classics section. Given that I loved Wicked and have been staring at my unopened copy of Son of a Witch with longing for two years now I decided it was a sign and I needed this book. I don't wholly regret the choice.

First of all, it's a book that subverts expectation. Maguire is an expert at combining the very real natures of people with the supernatural and mysterious aspects of plot. Thus Winifred Rudge, the writer who travels to London in search of her character (amongst other things), feels painfully real. She goes through the everyday dilemmas all writers suffer as they try and see the world through the eyes of their creations. At times it can feel like a selection of tedious asides but the bearing they have on the unravelling of the plot shouldn't be ignored.

So you've got Winnie and Wendy (her protagonist of sorts). Besides them you have the spectres of two other famous figures hovering over the narrative: Ebeneezer Scrooge and Jack the Ripper. Winnie suspects she was related to the inspiration for the former and her protagonist is obsessed with the latter. The presence of these two figures cleverly brings Victorian London to the present and manages to cover modern-day London with a blanket of darkness and mystery. This works in that it certainly invokes what Maguire intended but perhaps the reason the novel didn't quite resonate for me is more personal.

Winnie is visiting her cousin, John, in London but when she arrives at his flat he isn't there. Instead she finds two bewildered builders who claim to have been disturbed by supernatural occurrences. All well and good so far. Winnie befriends some quite colourful neighbours in her attempts to discover what's actually going on. The most interesting of these is the downstairs tenant, Mrs Maddingly, who certainly lives up to her name.

Not to spoil the story at all, but at some point the narratives shifts quite dramatically from implied to actual supernatural. Maybe it was just me but I quite enjoyed the uncertainty around it in the first half of the novel. When the atmosphere of mystery was confirmed by a supernatural presence I lost what had intrigued me in the first place.

Other small irritations of Lost included the first scene set during a motorway accident. I do see the relevance of it in relation to the wider plot but I would've much preferred to get stuck in there straight away. A little later we were in London and I was frustrated at the detour. Also, Maguire's propensity to chop off sentences when, ideally, they should flow like the rest of the paragraph grated on me at times.

I hasten to add, though, that none of these fairly minor personal points stopped me from enjoying a cracking novel. It is, after all, an escapist's paradise and a reader can't help but be immersed in the darkly modern portrayal of London - and of human nature too for that matter.

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