Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jaunty tableaux

Just finished reading a very lovely novel, Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost. It's got a bit of the feel of Kate Atkinson and a bit of Jonathan Coe's rotters club sensibility (but a decade later), but most of all the opening chapters made me feel I was reading about an alternate-universe fictional version of the child I was myself.

Here's an early paragraph I especially liked:
Next to Eric and Mavis was Mr. Watkin, the butcher. Mr. Watkin was an old man; Kate estimated he was probably seventy-eight. He was a nice man with a nice wife, but very few people bought their meat from him anymore. Kate thought this possibly had something to do with the way Mr. Watkin stood in his shop window, swatting flies against the sides of meat with a large palette knife. It was also perhaps a self-perpetuating situation, in that the fewer customers Mr. Watkin had, the less meat he stocked; and the less meat he had, the less he looked like a butcher and the more he looked like a crazy old man who collected and displayed bits of flesh in his front window. The previous week when Kate passed by the window had contained only a single rabbit (and Kate was sure the only person alive who still ate rabbit was in fact Mr. Watkin himself), some kidneys, a chicken, a side of pork, and a string of sausages. This in itself was nothing too remarkable for Mr. Watkin, but what caused Kate to stop and stare was an apparent new marketing initiative. Evidently the butcher had become a little embarrassed by the minimal nature of his window displays and so, perhaps in order to make them seem less odd (and this is where Kate felt he'd really miscalculated), he had arranged the items in a jaunty tableau. Thus it appeared that the chicken was taking the rabbit for a walk by its lead of sausages, over a hillock of pork under a dark red kidney sun. Kate looked up from the grisly scene to see Mr. Watkin nodding at her in amazement from inside the shop, thumbs aloft, as if taken aback by his own flair.
Miscellaneous light reading around the edges: Poppy Z. Brite's Antediluvian Tales; Ken Bruen's Cross. Most satisfactory...


  1. Very odd: I have read that paragraph, I am absolutely certain, but I have not read that book. Maybe an excerpt in a review, or I flipped through it in the library? Now I think I must get hold of it.

  2. So glad you liked this book. I read it a month or two ago and adored it. It reminded me a little of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but not a lot.
    Quite a lovely, sad story. (Did not think much of the mystery element but that didn't matter, the book transcended that). Why didn't it win the Booker last year do you think? (It was longlisted).

  3. I have this novel on my shelf but haven't read it. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago but couldn't get going with the first few pages; might have been my mood. You've convinced me to try again.

  4. I just picked this up at Borders and placed it back on the table (too many unread books in my bedroom currently). I could have gotten it for 50% off, too. And now I really want to read it.