‘A supermarket novel’ – The Lost Child by Suzanne McCourt

tlcsmThe child narrative is probably as much a genre as the crime novel or the western. True, not many writers specialise in them, but so many are drawn to write at least one that a collective oeuvre, a kind of Jungian subconscious gathering of similar experiences if you will, can be looked at as one living breathing thing. Books for adults narrated by children are so tempting to the writer. They give you a chance to show you can do so very much with a forcibly limited vocabulary, they let you do lots of showing not telling, you can do all that unreliable narrator stuff, you can pepper your novel with tragic misunderstandings, and they are so much more respectable than westerns, which are just about guns and horses and shit.

The narrator of The Lost Child is Sylvie who is five at the start of the novel and almost an adult at its conclusion. It is fair to say that quite a lot of not very nice things happen to her in the interim. The worst of these is her brother going missing which is, clearly, the central act of the novel. And, bar an incident with a lion cub, which stretches the limits of credibility more than a little, McCourt deals with it all very well. The voice of Sylvie is consistent and changing in all the right ways as the character ages. The narrative is never too cute or cloying. If you are a fan of child narratives, as the old saying goes, you will be a fan of The Lost Child.

You have probably guessed by now though, I am not a huge fan of child narratives. More accurately I need something extra, something other. I need more of a reason for a child narrative than those I listed somewhat cattily in the first paragraph. The Lost Child is very good at what it does but it doesn’t attempt to bring anything new to the genre. To be blunt, I would rather have read the story from the mother’s point of view. Or from both. Compared to something as masterful as Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley (which uses several narratives, both adults and children, and uses close third instead of first person narration) The Lost Child seems flat, almost flimsy.

Any Cop?: The Lost Child has got an audience but it is probably not the readers of Bookmunch. It is, and I mean no disrespect at all by this, a supermarket novel. It is popular fiction. Very good popular fiction, but popular fiction nonetheless.

 

Benjamin Judge

 


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