Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review: Of Things Gone Astray

Of Things Gone Astray
Janina Matthewson
hardcover, 288 pages
The Friday Project/Harper Collins
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

We've all lost something. A watch, a pin, a jacket, a memory. We can lose our hearts, our minds, our sense of direction. Of Things Gone Astray is about all these kinds of loss and more.

I'll be perfectly honest. I expected to like Things Gone Astray very much. This was based on something vague, like mutterings on twitter. Also, look at that book cover. It's gorgeous. It promises so much. So I began this book with a high sense of expectation. And at first I found it....irritating.

But all is not lost. Of Things Gone Astray is an exceptional book--it really is. It defies expectation. It is "our world, but strange." It took a few chapters before I oriented myself to the narrative structure of Of Things Gone Astray; the book is composed in very short chapters, and in the beginning, the characters are introduced one after the other, without giving the reader much sense of how they are linked.

As I read, I recalibrated. As it turns out, that's one of the themes of the book--the way we human beings lose things or have our lives changed and shifted, and we somehow recalibrate and carry on.

The characters in the novel are all connected through loss and geography. Mrs. Featherby wakes up one morning to find that the entire front wall of her house has disappeared overnight. Robert goes to his job one morning to find that his job has disappeared. An entire building has vanished, and this puts a new spin on the phrase "job loss." Cassie goes to the airport to meet her lover, Floss, and the lover never shows. Delia has lost her sense of direction (and her vocation, and her sense of autonomy). Marcus, a gifted musician, loses the keys to his piano (one he built himself by hand).

And Jake. Jake has lost his ability to see and be seen by his father.

The sense of loss in  Of Things Gone Astray can be deep and cavernous, or it can be comic. Or both at the same time.

Of Things Gone Astray is magical in the way of those tales where a character walks through a doorway or a wardrobe....there is a world in this book that is our own, but more magical, more strange. A world where women turn into trees, rooted to the spot where their longing began. A place where a little boy compensates for the largest loss of all by collecting other people's lost things. "Nothing can be found that is not lost" says a sign in a shop without a name.... In Of Things Gone Astray, people lose themselves to find themselves, and sometimes they find each other.

Of Things Gone Astray is simply a beautiful book. The writer I was most reminded of was Rachel Ingalls, author of the magical book Mrs. Caliban. The author, Janina Matthewson, names Susannah Clarke, Andrew Kaufman, and Neil Gaiman as influences. Readers who like those authors will undoubtedly enjoy Of Things Gone Astray. I also think readers who love Simon Van Booy's books would be receptive to Janina Matthewson's writing. But I would recommend this book to anyone--it is enormously appealing, deeply human, and luminously written.


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Nice review! I started this one and didn't get very far in it because I wasn't in the right mood. I think I'll eventually go back to it, though, since so many people are saying so many good things about it.

bibliophiliac said...

@Emily-This is exactly the kind of book you are tempted to put down but shouldn't...

bermudaonion said...

I've been drawn to this one because of the cover as well. It sounds like it's worth sticking with.

trish said...

I love Van Booy's writing, and your other comparisons make me itching to read this! Thanks for being on the tour!