What Was Lost: A Novel

By Catherine O'Flynn
Publisher:Holt Paperbacks, (6/24/2008)

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A tender and sharply observant debut novel about a missing young girl—winner of the Costa First Novel Award and long-listed for the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and The Guardian First Book Award

In the 1980s, Kate Meaney—“Top Secret” notebook and toy monkey in tow—is hard at work as a junior detective. Busy trailing “suspects” and carefully observing everything around her at the newly opened Green Oaks shopping mall, she forms an unlikely friendship with Adrian, the son of a local shopkeeper. But when this curious, independent-spirited young girl disappears, Adrian falls under suspicion and is hounded out of his home by the press.

Then, in 2003, Adrian’s sister Lisa—stuck in a dead-end relationship—is working as a manager at Your Music, a discount record store. Every day she tears her hair out at the outrageous behavior of her customers and colleagues. But along with a security guard, Kurt, she becomes entranced by the little girl glimpsed on the mall’s surveillance cameras. As their after-hours friendship intensifies, Lisa and Kurt investigate how these sightings might be connected to the unsettling history of Green Oaks itself. Written with warmth and wit, What Was Lost is a haunting debut from an incredible new talent.

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"What Was Lost: A Novel"
By Catherine O'Flynn

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated

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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. What drove Kate into an imaginary detective world? What sort of heroism does she fantasize


2. How was Kate influenced by her father, both before and after his death? How did his approach

to parenting compare to her grandmother’s?

3. What makes Green Oaks so appealing to Kate? Why is it important for her to go where no one

knows her?

4. How did you react to the shift in point of view after Kate disappeared? How did the adults’

perceptions compare to hers?

5. How does Lisa cope with the aftermath Kate’s disappearance has on her brother and her


6. How would you characterize Kurt and Kurt Sr.? How do the differences between Kurt and his

sister, Loretta, affect their roles in the family?

7. Discuss Green Oaks itself and the closed factory that looms in its history. What do shopping

and stores such as Your Music bring to the community? How pervasive is mall culture in our


8. How did your understanding of Teresa unfold? What had the dynamics between Kate and

Teresa been like when they first met? How was Teresa affected by abuse once she reached


9. Ultimately, who was responsible for Kate’s death? Could it have been prevented?

10. What is evoked by the top-secret detective notebook entry that forms chapter 41 in the novel?

In what way do Kate’s observations in those last scenes bring her story full circle?

11. How would you describe the relationship between Lisa’s co-workers? What do their

interactions with each other and with the customers say about their personalities? Why do they

stay in their jobs? How does Lisa handle the task of disciplining the volatile Steve in chapter

25? Why did Ian string Mr. Wake along for nearly two years regarding the classical-music

cassette (chapter 31)?

12. Discuss the novel’s title and its double meanings. In what way does Kate’s disappearance serve

as a metaphor for the other lost souls depicted by Catherine O’Flynn (including the mall

generation itself)? How did Lisa and Kurt become lost? Is their apathy indicative of their

generation as a whole?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Stirring and beautifully crafted, this debut novel recounts how the repercussions of a girl's disappearance can last for decades. In 1984, Kate Meaney is a 10-year-old loner who solves imaginary mysteries and guesses the dark secrets of the shoppers she observes at the Green Oaks mall. Kate's unlikely circle includes her always-present stuffed monkey; 22-year-old Adrian, who works at the candy shop next door; and Kate's classmate, Teresa Stanton, who hides her intelligence behind disruptive behavior. Kate's grandmother has plans for Kate: send her to boarding school. But Kate doesn't want to go. Fast forward to 2003, where it's revealed through Lisa, Adrian's sister, that Kate disappeared nearly 20 years ago, and Adrian, blamed in her disappearance, also vanished. Lisa works at a record store in Green Oaks and is drawn to Kurt, a security guard whose surveillance-camera sightings of a little girl clutching a stuffed monkey hint that he might have ties to Kate's disappearance. Teresa, meanwhile, now a detective, has her own reasons for being haunted by Kate's disappearance. Gripping to the end, the book is both a chilling mystery and a poignant examination of the effects of loss and loneliness. (July) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 


What Was Lost is a terrific, wonderful book and I loved every page of it.”—Douglas Coupland, author of The Gum Thief

“An off-beat quirky little mystery which punches way above its weight. Set in Birmingham in the mid-eighties, adolescent loner Kate aspires to be a great detective, spending days on stake-out at her local shopping centre. The narrative then jumps 20 years, when the ghost of a little girl starts appearing in service corridors. The author’s achingly astute observations on consumerism make this far more than a generic mystery and the icing on the cake is a twist in the tail which I really didn’t see coming.”—Marian Keyes, author of Anybody Out There? and Angels

What Was Lost is a delight to read—poignant, suspenseful, funny and smart. . . . [It] is a moving novel, bespeaking not only the energy and inventiveness of its author but also the power of good old realism.”—Jane Smiley, LA Times Sunday Book Review

“The bravest and most appealing adolescent this side of The Lovely Bones, aspiring detective Kate Meaney vanishes partway through Catherine O’Flynn’s mesmerizing debut novel, What Was Lost. . . There are many ways to feel invisible, we learn from this gentle, sharp-sighted tale of love and loneliness.  And there are many ways to be found.”—OThe Oprah Magazine

“Engrossing. . . With a sure hand for both suspense and satire, O’Flynn is a masterful writer, and her book a delicious mash-up of Nancy Drew and High Fidelity—teary and tart in the right proportions.”—Marie Claire

"At once moving and wickedly funny, [What Was Lost] is one dazzling debut."—People (four stars)

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Catherine O’Flynn was born in Birmingham, England, in 1970, where she grew up in and around her parents’ candy store.  She has been a teacher, Web editor, and mystery customer—and this, her first novel, draws on her experience of working in record stores. After spending several years in Barcelona, she now lives in Birmingham.

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