Sometimes you encounter a book that will stay with you for life. It could be the first sentence, an amazing plot, fantastic characters or a link to a moment in time. I knew from page one that this book would remain with me, long after I had placed it on a bookshelf, when finished. I have been trying to think of a way to summarise this novel, while giving it the credit it deserves. I will attempt to give the gist of the story, and can only hope that in doing so, I can persuade you to try it.
“Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.”
This is the amazing first line of Janina Matthewson’s debut novel, All Things Gone Astray. A New Zealander by birth, the London based author has witnessed, first hand, the experiences of loss. This novel takes the term ‘loss’ quite literally and works it into individual stories, gently interlinked, while using the power of the written word to express fear, grief and impossibility.
The reader is introduced to Jake, a small boy who has lost his mother; Delia, a young woman who has lost her independence; Cassie, a girl who has lost the love of her life; Robert, who has lost his job; Mrs Featherby who cannot seem to find her role in life and Marcus, who has lost his musical ability.
We have all lost something in our lives, be it a favourite ring, a loved one or even our virginity. But did we think about what the word lost means? Should we wonder if our loss is someone else’s gain? Should we consider renaming lost things as mislaid, misplaced or missing? The word ‘astray’ is actually based on the old Irish/Gaelic saying Ar Strae, meaning lost, so it seems even language is no barrier when describing loss.
Each character is encountering a surreal change, brought on by their individual losses, and through short chapters, the author slowly lets these events unfold. I was surprised to find myself identifying with these people, their acceptance of their new worlds and I was willing them to find the truth and meaning within themselves, rather than searching for the original loss.
This book had echoes of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, but unlike that book, Janina Matthewson didn’t hide the unusual narrative until the last chapter, rather embraced it from the first line. If you appreciate good writing, extremely beautiful prose and a imaginative talent within your reading material, then this is for you. Simply put, it is strange but stunning. A literary gem.