Magic Realism is one of my favourite genres. From Salaman Rushdie, to Haruki Murakami, to Angela Carter, I am in regular pursuit of authors who can spark my imagination with fantastical things, yet leave so many questions unanswered. When I put the book down, I love to sit in that sense of uncertainty – questioning whether there is a deeper meaning behind the hints of magic and mystery, or whether I am simply searching for meaning in something absurd.
Which is why, when I picked up Janina Matthewson’s Of Things Gone Astray, I knew from the first page that I was going to enjoy it. And I understood why other people might not.
One morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.
Meanwhile Jake, a young boy recently dragged to London by his grieving father, finds himself in possession of other people’s lost things.
But as more and more things come into his possession, something near and dear to him begins to slip away.
We have all experienced loss in our lives. For some, it consumes our every thought – for others, it’s a chance to start again. With her novel, Matthewson is not only able to capture the multitude of emotions dealing with loss, but purposefully analyses them at all angles.
There are fewer and fewer times in my life where I finish a book in one sitting, but Of Things Gone Astray sucked me in from the start. The writing style is direct, with vivid descriptions of each character’s life, yet with a sense of playfulness that doesn’t shy away from the mystical disappearance of each character’s belongings.
Much like a small community, or a well-written soap opera, the narrative of one character influences another, both in minor and major ways, and the reader is made to witness the consequences. We’re kept on the outside, with all of the knowledge of each character’s problem – what they have lost and why it matters to them – but none of the answers to fix them.
There will be some readers who find this frustrating. They will be waiting on the big magical revelation, the pulling back of the magical curtain. How did the characters things disappear? Why? But this explanation is never given – mostly because, that is not the true pleasure of the story.
The true pleasure of this novel (for me at least) comes from the characters individual efforts to deal with their loss. Matthewson is a master of point of view – each character felt distinct, vivid and, above all, relatable. Though the way in which they lose their things is fantastical in nature, their way of coping is down to Earth. Denial, acceptance, confusion, anger, despair – every emotional response is here, woven skillfully into each character.
This isn’t a story about the magical disappearance of things; it’s a story about the fragility of routine. How life can turn on you at the drop of a coin and, without warning, take you from everything you love. Do you accept the change and move on? Or do you let it consume you, as you long for a past already lost?
With a mixture of humour, tragedy and genuine character moments, Matthewson raises these questions in a wonderful novel, which I highly recommend.
Have you read Of things gone astray? Do you enjoy stories of Magic Realism? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or tweet me @ERHollands. I want to hear from you!