Caryl Phillips's "The Lost Child "is a sweeping story of orphans and outcasts, haunted by the past and fighting to liberate themselves from it. At its center is Monica Johnson cut off from her parents after falling in love with a foreigner and her bitter struggle to raise her sons in the shadow of the wild moors of the north of England.Read more...
Caryl Phillips's "The Lost Child "is a sweeping story of orphans and outcasts, haunted by the past and fighting to liberate themselves from it. At its center is Monica Johnson cut off from her parents after falling in love with a foreigner and her bitter struggle to raise her sons in the shadow of the wild moors of the north of England. Phillips intertwines her modern narrative with the childhood of one of literature's most enigmatic lost boys, as he deftly conjures young Heathcliff, the anti-hero of "Wuthering Heights," and his ragged existence before Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to his family.
"The Lost Child" is a multifaceted, deeply original response to Emily Bronte's masterpiece, "Wuthering Heights." A critically acclaimed and sublimely talented storyteller, Caryl Phillips is "in a league with Toni Morrison and V. S. Naipaul" ("Booklist") and "his novels have a way of growing on you, staying with you long after you've closed the book." ("The New York Times Book Review") A true literary feat, "The Lost Child" recovers the mysteries of the past to illuminate the predicaments of the present, getting at the heart of alienation, exile, and family by transforming a classic into a profound story that is singularly its own."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-02
- Reviewer: Staff
Phillips (A Distant Shore) spins a disturbing and tragic tale of a broken family in the north of England, sprawling across time and generations, and drawing inspiration from Wuthering Heights. The story begins by the docks of Liverpool as a seven-year-old boy "hovers protectively over his afflicted mother," a woman haunted by her time in the West Indian fields, abandoned by her lovers, and now nearing death. This ghastly introduction telegraphs a difficult path ahead in the modern story of Monica Johnson, a willful young Oxford University student, who rushes from her bully of a father, Ronald, an officious school master, into a marriage and children with Julius Wilson, an older history graduate student on a scholarship from his home country, an unnamed Carribbean island. The point of view shifts among Monica and her three children as the characters attempt to connect despite their self-destructive tendencies, notably anger sublimated into pride. Philips's use of not only the story of Heathcliff and Mr. Earnshaw but of the complicated home life of the Brontë sisters and their beloved failure of a brother will appeal to lovers of their canon. But, as well realized and evocative this story is, it's more gloom than romance on the moors. The book reverberates with pain and dislocation more gothic than any howling ghost. (Mar.)
An enduring BrontÃ« classic reimagined
It’s a favorite trick among literary novelists: use a classic work of literature as a launching pad for an investigation into favored themes. Jean Rhys did it with Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. J.M. Coetzee has done it twice, first in Foe, in which he reimagined Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a woman, and then, more daringly, in The Childhood of Jesus. Now essayist and playwright Caryl Phillips takes the work of a different Brontë—Emily—as the inspiration for his latest novel, The Lost Child.
In 1957, 20-year-old Oxford undergraduate Monica Johnson is set to give up her studies, much to her geography teacher father’s disappointment. She plans to marry Julius Wilson, a divorced grad student 10 years her senior, and follow him to the south coast of England. She does, and he gets a job at a polytechnic and founds a political organization devoted to anti-colonialism in his native West Indies.
Phillips intercuts the story of Monica, her two sons and her ensuing madness with scenes from Emily Brontë’s life. We see Brontë sick in bed, worrying along with the rest of the family about the fate of her brother, Branwell, and retreating into her imagination to work on a novel about a boy on the moors.
Despite the obvious parallels to Wuthering Heights—Monica is clearly meant to suggest a 20th-century Cathy—Phillips is too smart to simply put new clay on the same armature. He goes beyond the tale of Heathcliff and Cathy to create a biting commentary on empire and the vulnerability of family life. This is a devastating novel from one of our best writers.