Lost and Wanted

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

I thought I was getting a book about grief and possibly some magical realism, but all I got was many a page talking about physics problems and theories, which I didn't not understand and started skipping. This was not for me.
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This is a very well written novel. I enjoyed reading it and learning more about Helen and the complexities of life and loss.
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This novel garnered some great reviews but, for me, it was just a bit OK. There’s a bit towards the end when the characters are looking at lasers in a laboratory through safety glass – and that’s pretty much how I felt about reading this, looking at something I was distanced from and, well, just didn’t really understand. There is a lot of science in this book, and I get the impression that the author did a lot of research. The problem is, that’s exactly how it felt: that the author did a lot of research and we were damn well going to hear about it all.

It’s not a ghost story, and the best parts were the studies of grief as the main characters – Terrence and Simmi, Charlie’s husband and daughter, and Helen and Jack, Charlie’s best friend from college and her son – struggle to come to terms with the death of Charlie. As the book travels back and forward in time as Helen recalls incidents from her time with Charlie it builds a picture of the hole that has appeared in all of their lives. The text messages are more an incidental, and it becomes apparent where they are coming from. The science stuff is, well, very science-y, and I just skimmed huge passages cos it bored me. I’m sure there was a really meaningful parallel between all the science and the coming to terms with loss, absence, space, time bending in on itself, and so on, but it all felt a little forced and I just did not connect with it in any way. And the ending, without giving away anything, just completely flips it all and – not in a good way – I was left wondering ‘Why did you do that?’

Freudenberger is clearly a good writer and others will take much more from this book than I did, but it was pretty unremarkable, a bit too heavy on the research - a reasonably enjoyable average kind of read. I’ll go 3 stars, definitely not the whole Milky Way.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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This book was obviously well written, but I got about of the third of the way and it didn't keep my attention so I moved on to something else. (could come back to it in the future) Thanks for the opportunity though!
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*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did, but that's not to say I disliked it.

This is not a ghost story so it's best to prepare yourself for that going in. Instead, it is a tale about loss and grief. Helen Clopp is an intelligent Physics professor and a solo mother by choice to the delightfully wonderful Jack. She is very, very scientifically minded which is crucial as to how she perceives the world. The relationship she has with Jack is very sweet and honest. In fact, the parts that I liked the most in this book were the interactions with the children. Helen is dealing with the loss of her college friend Charlie meanwhile she's receiving emails and messages from her recently deceased friend, made all the worse when her son Jack claims he's seen Charlie in her office.

The science throughout was completely lost on me. Even when put into accessible terms, like the novels that Helen is said to write, it just tends to go way over my head. Physics and I just don't get on. And there's a loooot of science jokes and references through this that did hinder my enjoyment, especially when Neel, Helen's coworker and ex, rudely states at one point that autoimmune disorders aren't real, which I suppose is my own personal bugbear. The way it's told narratively was also confusing to me at times and I found it hard to get a grasp on how much time was passing. 

Still, I found the resolution of the messages from Charlie very sweet and realistic with how grief is dealt with which again loops round to how I cared for some characters more than I did others. Overall, I did like the book but I can't see myself rereading this, but I definitely was hooked from the first line.
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“In the first few months after Charlie died, I began hearing from her much more frequently.”

This is the first line of Lost and Wanted, and it hooks you instantly. I expected something entirely different, but what the book actually became was far more poignant and touching. Ultimately, this book is about relationships, particularly those between a child and a parent. A lot of the people in the novel find themselves having to adapt to a sudden shift in their relationships after Charlie dies: her mother struggles to come to terms with the circumstances surrounding her death, and Charlie’s daughter’s relationship with both Charlie and her father, Terrence, is forever changed. 

There’s also the relationship between Helen, the protagonist and Charlie’s best friend from college, and her own son, Jack. I found Helen to be a refreshingly different character. I especially liked the insight into her life as mother that chose to have a child alone, with the assistance of a sperm donor. It’s not a character that we see often so that was really interesting. It was great to see a single-mother character who was also extremely successful in her career without it having an enormous strain on the relationship with her son. 

The only thing that bothered me with this novel was the overwrought explanation of physics. At first I would read parts and think ‘Well, that made no sense to me, but it’s fine’. It wasn’t detrimental to my reading experience as a whole but as the novel went on there was a lot of science-talk that completely went over my head. Whilst I’m sure it does add something to the story if you can get your mind around, most of it meant nothing to me.
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I needed something more to happen in Lost and Wanted. I think some of the subtlety was lost on me. It was more of a novel of ideas than a plot driven novel.
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I really enjoyed this novel about scientist Helen and her relationships, friendships, experiences of bereavement and motherhood. The characters all felt very real and complex. One I would read again.
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Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted has a really excellent opening: ‘In the first few months after Charlie died, I began hearing from her much more frequently. This was even more surprising than it might have been, since Charlie wasn’t a good correspondent even when she was alive.’ Helen, a theoretical physicist, doesn’t see her best friend from university, Charlie, nearly as often as she would like, so Charlie’s sudden death comes as a shock. As she receives a string of text messages and emails from Charlie over the next weeks and months, she reflects on the history of their friendship while she tries to move forward into her own future. Those excellent opening lines are somewhat misleading in that this really isn’t a novel about a ghostly mystery; instead, Freudenberger uses physics to explore relationships between the living. 

Freudenberger has done her research on quantum physics, and actually sounds like she knows what she’s talking about, although as a non-physicist myself, I can’t really judge. She picks up on a central conceit: the finding that two ‘entangled’ particles can affect each other’s quantum states even when they are far apart, what Einstein called 'spooky action from a distance'. Helen and Charlie were once so close to each other and have moved far apart, and yet keep affecting each other’s lives in unexpected ways, even after Charlie’s death. Both women end up working in the other’s home town, on opposite sides of the United States; Charlie’s husband and daughter live in the ground floor flat of Helen’s house in the aftermath of their bereavement. 

Freudenberger’s writing is full of crunchy detail. Helen struggles with handling emotional interactions, recalling another female scientist called Helen (in Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers) and perhaps more generalised cliches about intellectual women. However, she’s not written as an Eleanor Oliphant-style caricature, but as someone who has a great deal of insight into her own limitations, and perhaps tries too hard to correct them, especially when she’s worrying about her seven-year-old son, Jack, or her relationship with Simmi, Charlie’s bereaved eight-year-old daughter: ‘I thought of how much better my sister would be at dealing with Simmi than I was. She seemed able to keep her feelings on an even keel, whereas I was always fluctuating between these poles of emotion, frustration and passionate attachment.’ Yet there’s also a sense that Helen sells herself too short; that her dominant rationality is not actually keeping her from reading situations right.

Lost and Wanted was a tad disappointing to me simply because I wanted it to go into more metaphysical territory, but it still reflects movingly on grief, especially kinds of grief that are less often explored in fiction; the grief of one friend for another friend, or of a child for a parent. One exchange between Simmi and Helen stands out. When Helen tells her, “Kids can’t imagine how much we love them,” Simmi answers: “Parents have their own parents. And they have husbands and wives… And their jobs and stuff. Kids just have parents… Parents forget everything… They forget how much they used to love their own parents… when they were kids.”

I will post a full version of my review to Goodreads nearer the publication date.
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