Monday, 16 October 2006

A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern

A Place Called Here
Cecelia Ahern
(HarperCollins €??)

WHERE do all those socks go, that go into the washing machine and never come out, all those mobile phones and umbrellas that just one day disappear?

This is the question on the mind of ex-garda Sandy Shortt, and it’s been plaguing her since she was 10, when classmate Jenny-May Butler went out one day and was never seen again.

Sandy has always been neurotic about losing even a toothbrush. She left the Gardai to set up an agency to find missing people.

A lot of people go missing in Ireland. Over 300 children seeking asylum have disappeared since 2001 – lone children who were in the care of our State.

It’s an interesting subject for Cecelia Ahern to tackle – because quickly the reader realises that this is a fantasy novel, a huge jump in genre.

Sandy often finds the missing – until, one day, she runs right out of this world and into the world where all the missing things go.

It’s a land where people dress in clothes found in lost luggage, and trade goods that turn up in the woods around the villages.

Greens will be happy that Ahern’s ideal world has solar panels and wind turbines, with government by consensus.

Of course, Ireland is the home of the echt story of lost and found: Oisín’s journey to Tír na h-Óighe and his return and search for the Fianna. In Irish, when someone drifts around aimlessly – or arrives very late – people say that he’s like Oisín i ndhiaigh na Féinne.

But it’s The Wizard of Oz that underlies Ahern’s story, with its theme of finding heart and brain and courage.

Her missing people marry and have families (though not, seemingly, pets – all those dogs who trotted off one day, nose to the ground, and didn’t come home must have gone somewhere else).

And Sandy is able to bring these hungry lost ones news from home.

It’s a gripping story, and a moving one. The plot sags a bit in the middle when Ahern gets pulled out of synch by planning her ideal world, but returns in full force by the end.

There’s even a strange kind of love interest happening in parallel universes, as the brother of one of the lost seeks Sandy, while her partner is seen in flashbacks growing increasingly despondent at her neurosis.

A strange book, and absolutely one for the handbag, for a whole new audience.

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