Book of the Week: Of Things Gone Astray – Janina Matthewson

Readers seem to be either annoyed or intrigued by this cover. One way or the other, the cover appears to be doing its work—lots of booksellers have picked this novel up. And they’ve been writing that they loved it–so much so that it’s an an Indie Next Pick for February.

The premise is clever: One day a group of people all lose something dear to them, but they lose it in a “though the looking-glass” kind of way–a man who loses his job shows up at this workplace to find the building gone; a pianist loses the keys to a beloved piano; a woman loses her sense of direction. And a little boy loses his mother in an earthquake then starts finding others’ lost things, even as his relationship with his father starts to slip away.

This is strange and magical book that uses language cleverly but doesn’t let that cleverness overwhelm a story about the resilience of people in the face of loss. Below is a superb bookseller review that says it all.

This turned into one of my favorite reads of 2014. It first gob-smacks you with its striking cover (almost a Bill Plimpton cartoon) and then hits you with its odd, striking premise.  Several people in London have things go missing – the front wall of their house, a relationship between a father and son, a woman’s sense of direction, a musician’s piano keys etc.  One woman, waiting for her lover for so long, grows roots in an airport and starts to turn into a tree!  All of this sounds strange, and it IS, but it’s also strangely beautiful.  Like modern day fairy tales, each person who loses something also manages to find something.  What they find can be life-changing or simply a grounding onto this world we call home, but they are all changed by the magic.  When the stories begin to cross over into each other, a sort of magic happens, and the reader is forced to examine what is important and what is not.  Do we hang on to things that are truly unimportant in the grand scheme of life, love, and family?  There are no easy answers, but for the inhabitants of Matthewson’s London, beauty is always discovered within the little details.  Prepare to be wowed!”
— Bill Carl, The Booksellers on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, OH

“Refreshing and spare, like a bittersweet melody echoing in an empty hallway, Matthewson’s debut novel will linger in the reader’s memory.”
Kirkus Reviews

“I loved the quirky premise of people losing various things that are important to them, but in an odd way.  I really liked the way the author set up the book with very short but immersive passages that illuminate the characters quickly but allow many characters to be introduced rapidly.  It was a great exploration of the process of dealing with loss, the different ways people take when change happens.  I am really looking forward to sharing this book with others!”
— Colleen Schultz, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington KY

“Imaginative and beautifully rendered. Janina Matthewson takes a playful but profound look at modern life and values and the human condition. This fantastical story will make you want to lose something just to see what you might find.”
— Claire Roser Maria’s Bookshop, Durango CO

Of Things Gone Astray (9780007562473) by Janina Matthewson. $19.99 hardcover. 2/3/15 on sale.

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