The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt
|The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A breaking family in late 1950s/early 1960s Australia through the eyes of a young girl. We may smile at her child-like misunderstandings but we pick up on the well-observed, underlying problems that she misses. It may be a bit of a slow burner but once it gets into full swing, it's excellent and without a trace of misery memoirishness.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 287||Date: November 2014|
|Publisher: Text Publishing Company|
Sylvie lives in a small Australian fishing village with her mum, dad and elder brother, Dunc. However all that is about to change and little Sylvie finds herself in the middle of dramas she neither understands nor controls. Her world may never be the same but she tries to make sense of it, Trollop, comic books, clingy mother, moody father and all.
This may be Aussie writer Suzanne McCourt's debut published novel but it's not her first go at a novel. In the beginning Suzanne tried to write a romantic book but it kept veering off course and one particular voice – that of a child – wouldn't shut up. So, having another run at it, Suzanne went somewhere darker than romanticism and let the child have her say. In fact she let the child have the whole book. (Believe me, that's not a complaint!)
Little Sylvie's childhood echoes Suzanne's in both setting and two of her major life events. (Don't worry – no spoilers incoming!) This imbues it with a deeper level of understanding, and indeed pain. In fact Sylvie tells her own story so that we're with her till her mid-teens. As she starts at the age of 4, we can often comprehend the connotations she can't. We may laugh at her interpretations of what the adults are telling her but then when our own life experience takes over the interpretation, poignancy and pathos take over from the giggles. The joy is that what may have been excellent therapy for Suzanne comes over as a cracking good read rather than a misery memoir.
Sylvie matures visibly through the years. Initially her episodic first person vignettes are all over the place, often without any apparent cohesion. It may occasionally be annoying but this is a small child unable to see connections and wanting to convey what's on her mind as soon as she thinks it. Gradually though, things start to happen and we go from infantile (in a good sense) ramblings to something that isn't only cohesive but also shows us the inner workings of an insecure young mind with an ease of communication that is rare. Suzanne forgets nothing and conveys everything, right down to the value of having at least one understanding teacher in a child's disintegrating world.
Indeed there are malevolent forces around Sylvie from the bullies at school, to the on/off friendship with Lizzie, the eventual allure of a lad called Elvis and the mystery surrounding Dunc and on to her over-protective mother. However once again the author cleverly takes our adult experience and lays it over Sylvie's inexperience.
We can all see why Sylvie has reason to resent her mother, one example being a particularly cringe-making birthday present Sylvie is forced to take to a party. On the other side of the coin, we also feel for Sylvie's mother, a lively, enterprising woman whom circumstance is trying to reduce to a husk, but a husk that refuses to surrender.
If it sounds like a doom fest it's down to the inadequacy of my writing rather than any deficiency in Suzanne's. This is a coming of age story that brings us character-filled life in a small community where everyone influences a child's upbringing for both good and bad. It may be Sylvie we're watching as she pilfers her brother's comic books, works out who she can trust and one day realises that boys aren’t just pests; we're rooting for the whole community, even the Trollop!
No, we don't know how that first romantic novel would have turned out, but I for one am thrilled that it produced Sylvie. 'Indomitability of the human spirit' may be a trite phrase but it still feels good to be reminded of it from time to time, especially when it's brought to us like this.
(Thank you, Text Publishing, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If this appeals, then we also heartily recommend another excellent story from a child's viewpoint, When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett. If you prefer a coming of age story in an American Graffiti kind of way then we just as heartily point you towards If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt at Amazon.com.
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