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Of Things Gone Astray

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On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.

Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realize that his most valuable possession, his relationship with his father, is slipping away from him.

Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values and finding the things that really matter.

278 pages, Hardcover

First published August 25, 2014

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About the author

Janina Matthewson

4 books111 followers
Fiction writer and sometime actress from Aotearoa, now based in London.

Co-host of History is Sexy.

Nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award 2016, shortlisted for the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2021, winner Audio Verse Awards 2019, 2020.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 246 reviews
Profile Image for Caroline .
411 reviews559 followers
November 21, 2016

Its pretty cover and enticing blurb just can’t make up for the fact that Of Things Gone Astray is a disappointingly superficial exploration of loss. Loss is one of the more interesting themes to explore in writing. It’s universal, easy to relate to, a theme that can be explored from numerous angles and say so much. Author Janina Matthewson essentially said nothing.

The narrative is organized as basically a series of bland short stories, each focused on a single character, separated into sections so that they cycle more or less evenly throughout the book. There also are some chapters that focus only on lost objects, for example, “The Ring.” The writing is extremely simplistic, at about a fifth-grade level. The characters are neither particularly compelling nor at all fleshed-out, and the lost objects chapters are entirely irrelevant. Even the oddities throughout the story never really sparkle. This is magical realism at its most dull.

The overwhelming impression is that Matthewson wrote a series of vignettes that she then strung together with no clear vision of how each related to the other; there’s a slapdash, scatterbrained quality to the organization. At a later point characters do cross paths with other characters, but this comes across as an afterthought, a feeble attempt to create some kind of connecting thread and therefore an actual unified something she could call a “fable.” There is no actual connecting thread.

Really, though, the main problem is that although each character has lost something, such as some piano keys, the meaning behind the loss is missing. In other words: So what? A woman has lost the front of her house. So what? A man’s work building is suddenly missing. So what? Matthewson missed a huge opportunity to communicate something profound about loss. By its conclusion, the story fizzles out, with no resolution. One closes the book and wonders what the point was, if there even is one. Could Of Things Gone Astray be some vague, open-to-interpretation experimental art piece in literary form?

Had Matthewson focused on just one character or made Of Things Gone Astray twice as long (therefore allowing for deeper character development), perhaps this would have been a much tighter and more meaningful story. Maybe then it would have depth and a strong, clear message. Unfortunately, what’s here is weak magical realism mixed with extremely shallow character development and even some tangential side stories related to each character that only tease or are irrelevant.

Final verdict: An amateur effort, Of Things Gone Astray is one to skip without hesitation.

NOTE: I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy in February 2015.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,695 reviews14.1k followers
December 18, 2014
How would you react if the most important thing in your life disappeared, or if what you depended on most changed? If what gave you a sense of identity was no longer present, lost and not able to be found? I thought of this, for me it would probably be me books, how would I feel if I came downstairs in the morning and my books were gone, what would I do to fill the time I spent reading?

These are the things confronting the characters in this entertaining novel. People loose things, a woman looses the front wall of her house, a man looses his piano keys, and a woman waiting for her love interest at the airport turns into a tree. (Alena, where are you?)
These people must change their routines, find other things in which to relate. How they move forward, or don't is the basis for this novel.

Loved the magic realism in this quirky novel. It was so wonderfully used and seemed so fitting. Fun but poignant at times, made me really think about the many things we take for granted, how we get so set in our routines. A novel that draws the reader in and doesn't let go until the end.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Margaret Madden.
755 reviews164 followers
August 26, 2014
4.5 stars
Sometimes you encounter a book that will stay with you for life. It could be the first sentence, an amazing plot, fantastic characters or a link to a moment in time. I knew from page one that this book would remain with me, long after I had placed it on a bookshelf, when finished. I have been trying to think of a way to summarise this novel, while giving it the credit it deserves. I will attempt to give the gist of the story, and can only hope that in doing so, I can persuade you to try it.

"Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight."

This is the amazing first line of Janina Matthewson's debut novel, All Things Gone Astray. A New Zealander by birth, the London based author has witnessed, first hand, the experiences of loss. This novel takes the term 'loss' quite literally and works it into individual stories, gently interlinked, while using the power of the written word to express fear, grief and impossibility.
The reader is introduced to Jake, a small boy who has lost his mother; Delia, a young woman who has lost her independence; Cassie, a girl who has lost the love of her life; Robert, who has lost his job; Mrs Featherby who cannot seem to find her role in life and Marcus, who has lost his musical ability.
We have all lost something in our lives, be it a favourite ring, a loved one or even our virginity. But did we think about what the word lost means? Should we wonder if our loss is someone else's gain? Should we consider renaming lost things as mislaid, misplaced or missing? The word 'astray' is actually based on the old Irish/Gaelic saying Ar Strae, meaning lost, so it seems even language is no barrier when describing loss.

Each character is encountering a surreal change, brought on by their individual losses, and through short chapters, the author slowly lets these events unfold. I was surprised to find myself identifying with these people, their acceptance of their new worlds and I was willing them to find the truth and meaning within themselves, rather than searching for the original loss.

This book had echoes of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, but unlike that book, Janina Matthewson didn't hide the unusual narrative until the last chapter, rather embraced it from the first line. If you appreciate good writing, extremely beautiful prose and a imaginative talent within your reading material, then this is for you. Simply put, it is strange but stunning. A literary gem.
Profile Image for Cee.
969 reviews220 followers
January 29, 2015
Literary fiction has the reputation of being high-brow, inaccessible, and overly complicated. Of Things Gone Astray proves that the genre can also be funny, thought-provoking, clever, sad, and relatable.

One day, a wall of Mrs Featherby's house disappears. Another woman's sense of direction fails so spectacularly that she can't even cross the street without getting lost. A man's job vanishes. A girl in the airport grows roots. All of them lose something that was important to them, that they depended on or hid behind.

The idea behind Of Things Gone Astray could have easily become a preachy message on loss and what's important in life. Instead we follow a group of people that all have the bizarre experience of losing something or someone, without there being an obvious resolution or moral to the story. There is no light-bulb moment of "A-ha! I didn't spend enough time with my family!" or any simplistic solution to the problems they face. All of the characters have to take on themselves, with varying degrees of success.

Of Things Gone Astray is such an interesting mix of elements. On one hand we have the surreal elements, like a wall disappearing overnight. On the other hand the reactions of the characters to these situations are pragmatic - the wall of Mrs Featherby's house is indeed gone, and all characters are left scratching their heads on how something like this could ever happen. Concepts become reality in Of Things Gone Astray.

The book has extremely short chapters, some of them barely two pages long. There are about six or seven main story lines, all of which cross and intersect each other. Although the narrative was fragmented in a way, it was never difficult to follow. The characters face such unique predicaments that it's impossible to mix them up. The short length of the chapters made for an extremely quick read. I read the entire book while on a train, and the frequent chapter breaks were useful to look out of the window and daydream.

The theme of the book, of losing things and being lost, really struck a chord with me. I really rooted for the characters, hoping they would find a way. The ending didn't give much answers, but instead hopefully implied changes. Of Things Gone Astray was one of those books for me that find you at the right place and the right time.
Profile Image for Megan Readinginthesunshine.
473 reviews185 followers
August 31, 2014
I was very intrigued by this book. Firstly, the cover is so striking, when I first saw it I could not take my eyes way from it, it is stunning and intriguing in equal measures. And after reading the description, I was very interested to start reading.

On what appears to be a normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something that is very dear to them, but perhaps not the thing they would first think of – the front of their house, piano keys, a sense of direction, and so on. Meanwhile Jake is a young boy whose father brings him to London after his mother’s sudden death, and Jake suddenly finds himself attracted to other people’s lost things….

I really liked this. I genuinely don’t know how to put this novel into words, it is one that has to be read and experienced for yourself!

The main theme running through this novel is loss, and I particularly liked how Janina Matthewson explored this with a variety of different characters and losses, each loss different to the next but still deeply personal to that character. I liked the idea that these lost things were not what would first come to mind, and I especially liked the exploration of the word loss and the meaning behind when things are lost and what that can mean to an individual person.

Of Things Gone Astray is told through chapters which focus on each individual character, their loss and how this loss has affected them and the changes it has brought. Even though there are quite a few characters in this, it is easy to understand and Janina weaves and inks the stories together beautifully. I loved all of the characters in their own ways but I think the story that touched me the most was Cassie’s, I really connected with her. I thoroughly enjoyed being with each individual character on their journey of their loss and seeing how they progressed. Of Things Gone Astray is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that I definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Hanna.
45 reviews
March 12, 2016
I loved the way all the characters' lives were interwoven together, oftentimes with them knowing it.
I also thought it was an interesting - and almost whimsical - way to explore loss and recovery. It read more like a fable than just your typical fiction novel. At the end, the characters come to a collective (but mostly unconscious) realization that it's the people around us and not objects or possessions that make us truly complete.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Madeline .
1,627 reviews122 followers
June 23, 2016
I've read this book weeks ago, just not sure about my review....

*********Possible Spoilers***********

I don't get it!!! Ok, I get it.....several people lose something that is very important to them....and????

This story is written in 6 pov's; one story from each loser. The author takes each scenario and mish mashes it around.....kind of like stirring ketchup into your mashed potatoes. It just gets more unrecognizable as you continue!

If you are looking for an ending...there isn't one. You have to have a good imagination and apply that liberally.

There was one good line when the narrator is talking about Delia:

"She stepped out to the footpath and turned right, and wrong."

I thought that was worth the 3 stars I gave it.
Profile Image for Cory.
397 reviews1 follower
December 13, 2014
This was a beautiful book -- Matthewson has used a magical realist style to represent loss in many forms. Characters literally lose their job, their sense of direction, the walls they hid behind, even each other. It's highly readable -- short chapters, a gentle, nostalgic style, an interweaving of the stories of each person who has lost something. I was right on the verge of giving it 5 stars, but I found the ending rushed -- it was clear what Matthewson was going for, but I feel that she needed more words to do it. I was also a bit disappointed by Marcus's development; most of the characters were well-developed, but he felt like there was a lot going on that was never articulated to the reader. Still absolutely worth reading; the characters are interesting and generally well-drawn, their growth not confined to being a happy ending for everyone, and the dreamlike world is entrancing.

I received this as a free ARC through Netgalley, but once it's out I'll probably buy a copy for a few friends I know will like it.
Profile Image for Devin.
405 reviews
September 19, 2015
Imagine, if you will, an entire season of Twilight Zone episodes being told in parallel. Each tied together under an umbrella of loss, or a lost umbrella. The magic realism threatening to run astray at any moment. But would it be inconsistent for anything to run astray in a book of loss? Would it be so bad to turn into a tree at an arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport? Does one find one's calling through the things we lose? Not that any of these questions receive a satisfying answer. But the thought exercise is seen through with enormous consistency. Things became interesting as the various parallel lines began to intersect and characters crossed paths with one another. Though I did crave a tighter sense of closure. But then, nothing was lost in reading this novel. This meditation about loss itself.
Profile Image for Margaryta.
Author 6 books36 followers
August 19, 2014
Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with an egalley copy of the book to review.

“Of Things Gone Astray” is a tale that uses the context of lost objects to explore the every-day side of people, the way they interact and go through their lives with their own thoughts, as well as the conflicts they face. The reader follows the stories of several characters, namely Mrs. Featherby, Cassie, Delia, Robert, Marcus, and Jake. There are a few chapters, around ten, which briefly talk about lost objects and give a brief backdrop in regards to who their owner was, the circumstances during which the object was lost, and then provides a kind of reflective look on the person’s life. When it comes to the characters themselves, each one has lost something as well, whether it was an actual, physical loss, like Mrs. Featherby losing a wall of her house, or Delia, who loses her sense of direction. Others go through transformations, such as Cassie who discovers the rather unusual answer as to why she finds herself ‘planted’ in place at the airport. Notable as well is the fact that many of the characters interact with each other, like Mrs. Featherby meeting Robert’s daughter Bonny, who comes to have tea with her, or Delia, who develops a relationship with Anthony, Jake’s father.

After reading the summary I knew this isn’t a book that should be read literally, nor should one look for a logical explanation to the events going on. It’s difficult to imagine someone stealing an entire side wall of a house, so I didn’t expect an answer or solution to that. What I did hope to find was a moving story that held a purpose in it, which would move me and enlighten me about something.

But the problem is that I wasn’t.

World building and character development exists in this story, and is very strong, in fact. However for me it was difficult to find an aspect of the characters that I could grab on to and sympathize. In fact, Cassie was the only character whose situation moved me and I had some kind of reaction to it. She was the only one who felt alive for me, the way she worried about her girlfriend, Floss, who hadn’t arrived at the airport, and the situation she found herself in. But the other characters I read about only on the surface. I didn’t develop much empathy for them and kept wondering “what next?” until I finished the book and was STILL asking myself that question.

The magic of this book didn’t work on me, and I’m still wondering why. It has very strong aspects to it, such as the idea of losing and finding, and the way the characters began to meet each other made me excited, thinking this would be where the deeper layer of the book would be uncovered. But I didn’t feel it. The ending didn’t stick with me much, and left me rather disappointed. It didn’t have to be a “big finish”, out-of-the-park kind of ending, but something that would wrap up the story more. I daresay I tried to find the point of the book, and that never makes for a good reaction after finishing.

I would, however, recommend this book, definitely. In fact, I’m really curious to see what kind of reactions and thoughts people will have after reading this one, to see if there was something that I missed while trying to read between the lines. This book’s magic will work for other readers, it just didn’t for me.
Profile Image for Aldi.
1,094 reviews86 followers
November 4, 2016
Janina Matthewson is the co-author and performer of the podcast Within the Wires (the other co-author being Welcome to Night Vale's Jeffrey Cranor), which is mysterious and delightful and heart-breaking. When I heard she'd written a novel, you better believe I had my grabby hands on it as soon as BookDepository could possibly deliver it, and it was SO WORTH IT. It's bizarre and lovely, with enough allegory to make it really unusual and inspire lots of meta and thinky-thoughts, but also plenty of down-to-earth ordinariness and humour and a cast of beautifully real characters that are interconnected in slowly unfolding and interesting ways.

So basically here's what I need everyone to do:
1. Listen to Within the Wires.
2. Get this book.
3. Read this book.
4. Read her other novella, The Understanding of Women, probably.
5. Also obviously listen to Welcome to Night Vale if you haven't already (I came to it years late and believe that will remain one of the true regrets of my life :p).

...or do it in a different order, I suppose that would be acceptable. I'm not an unreasonable person.
Profile Image for Katie.
468 reviews32 followers
September 15, 2014
First of all I would like to say how grateful I am to have received this book from Netgalley. I loved it.

Imagine losing the thing in your life you most depend on, the thing that has built your entire comfort zone. Most of us don't even have a conscious idea of what that is. It's so taken for granted that it will just always be there, and we have no idea how imprisoning these things can be until they are taken away.

That's what this book is about, people being completely stripped of their comfort zones. For one recluse it was the front wall of her house that separated her from the world, for another his job just disappeared and for a girl who's only escape from her life's troubles was wondering the city, completely lost all sense of direction.

This book raises the questions of what to do when life takes something that you're grasping to tightly. Will you let go and find a new way or will you become rooted in denial of the facts and fear?

This book definitely got me thinking of the things in my life that I lean to hard on. The comfort zones I thought I loved, but might really be keeping me chained from further progress and growth. What would I do if they were stripped from me? Maybe I should start taking the chains off by myself and see.
Profile Image for Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount).
859 reviews35 followers
July 1, 2016
I really enjoyed this book. I've read a lot of eARCs this season,and most I was content to just read once and move on, but I may have to eventually acquire a paper copy of this one.

In this story, things start going missing- the front wall of a house, a man's job, a young woman's sense of direction, a pianist's piano's keys, etc.- and with no explanations in sight everyone has to just get on with life as best they can. In the process maybe they find that they are regaining things they hadn't even known they'd lost.

IF you like Borges, Saramago, or Bradbury, you'll probably enjoy this book.

(I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Reread notes: I got my local library to buy this book, so I of course had to reread it. Still a fantastic book.
116 reviews1 follower
August 23, 2015
What to say about this mind-blowing book? It defies genres, sometimes venturing into "The Twilight Zone," other times meandering into subtle psychological territory, always challenging the sense of loss and gain. I actually picked it up because I was judging the book by its cover, but the content exceeds the cover art's promise. Read it! You'll be glad you did!
Profile Image for Cathrine.
Author 3 books24 followers
September 27, 2014
If you enjoy Ali Smith you will like this :-)

the same word play
the same themes
the same playing with myths

Profile Image for Janine Roos.
197 reviews5 followers
November 30, 2022
I can't describe this book as anything but wonderfully odd. Thank you for such a lovely gift Geertje!
Profile Image for Blake Fraina.
Author 1 book41 followers
March 1, 2015
This remarkable little book came along just at the right time for me.

This summer I’ll be leaving a job I’ve had for the last 22 years. Not by choice, exactly. Impending unemployment and the daunting prospect of starting over again has sent me into a bit of a tailspin. And so it was, with this looming over me, I began reading Janina Matthewson’s poignant and fanciful depiction of a group of Londoners who wake up to find that they’ve each suddenly lost the one thing they believe is integral to their identity.

Elderly misanthrope Mrs. Featherby wakes up to find the entire front wall of her house is missing, exposing her heretofore quiet existence to the prying eyes of every passerby. Young husband and father Robert discovers that his workplace [and everything associated with it] has vanished as if it never existed. Retired concert pianist and widower Marcus finds that the keys of the treasured piano that he built with his father have disappeared. And intrepid Delia, who abandoned her art studies to care for her paraplegic mother, has completely lost her sense of direction to the point that she cannot even set foot out her front door without wandering hours out of her way.

These four storylines are bookended by the sagas of Cassie, who, having been stood up by her lover at the Heathrow arrivals gate, is slowly turning into a tree and Jake, a young boy whose mother perished in a New Zealand earthquake, as he drifts away from his grief-stricken father. Ultimately, the stories intersect – some tangentially, others significantly – as we see the various characters reaching out to one another like survivors of a shipwreck hanging on for dear life.

Matthewson illustrates how people attach importance to inconsequential things, allowing these things to shape their identity, often to the exclusion of everything that really matters. And how letting go of these things (or losing them) can put us back in touch with our relationships to those around us.

But this novel isn't merely a didactic delivery system for some dry or sappy "spiritual" message. It's a strangely gripping story about a group of people one cares about. All of them, even the secondary players, are richly developed and the dialogue sounds natural and modern. Every single character completely endeared themselves to me.

Although not all of the characters arrives at a completely satisfying resolution, they all experience their own epiphany and grow as a result. Broken up into brief chapters that ricochet between the main players makes for a quick read, despite its nearly 300 pages. The book is poetic, gorgeous and kept me totally enraptured from beginning to end. It truly spoke to me and I highly recommend it.

Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,577 reviews74 followers
December 5, 2015

I knew from page one that this book would remain with me, long after I had put down my e-reader, when finished. I have been trying to think of a way to summarise this novel, while giving it the credit it deserves. This was a beautiful book -- Matthewson has used a magical realist style to represent loss in many forms. Characters literally lose their job, their sense of direction, the walls they've hidden behind, even each other.
"Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight." This is the amazing first line of Janina Matthewson's debut novel, 'All Things Gone Astray'. This novel takes the term 'loss' quite literally and works it into individual stories, gently interlinked, while using the power of the written word to express fear, grief and impossibility.
Each character is encountering a surreal change, brought on by their individual losses, and through short chapters, the author slowly lets these events unfold. I was surprised to find myself identifying with these people, even though there were so many. They dealt with the losses, and their acceptance of their new worlds, and I was willing them to find the truth and meaning within themselves, rather than searching for the original loss.
It's easily readable, with short chapters, and a gentle, nostalgic style. Matthewson uses an interweaving of the stories of each person who has lost something. I was right on the verge of giving it 5 stars, but I found the ending rushed. While it was clear what Matthewson was going for, I felt that she needed more words to do it. I was also a bit disappointed by Marcus's development; most of the characters were well-developed, but he felt like there was a lot going on that was never articulated to the reader. There needed to be MORE, here.... But what, I could not tell you.
Still absolutely worth reading; the characters are interesting and generally well-drawn, their growth not confined to being a 'happy ending' for everyone, and the dreamlike world is entrancing. If you appreciate good writing, extremely beautiful prose and a imaginative talent within your reading material, then this is for you. Simply put, it is strange but stunning. A literary gem.
4.5 stars, and a hearty recommendation.
Profile Image for Stefani - SpelingExpirt.
139 reviews19 followers
August 23, 2015
For more reviews go to SpExReviews

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson is, in one word, beautiful. One morning various people in London wake up to find things dear to them have gone. They aren’t the things you’d expect someone to lose – piano keys, the front wall of a house, their sense of direction. They wake one morning to find their lives drastically altered.

We follow the tales of Cassie, Delia, Robert, Marcus and Mrs Featherby as they adjust to life without the things that kept them safe and happy. Alongside these characters we follow Jake, a young boy dealing with the loss of his mother and his disconnection from his father, who is drawn to lost things. The stories are connected in small ways that feel genuine.

The secondary characters feel real and believable, they don’t feel like they are just put in to further the plot. They are every bit a part of the story as the six main characters.

The book has a sense of awe and magic from the first page to the last. The central theme throughout is loss, how we deal with it and the unexpected things that come with life not going as planned. Each, very short, chapter follows a different protagonist and how they each deal with their very odd losses. The chapters themselves can be a little repetitive. In some of Jake’s chapters this is very much on purpose and used to highlight the way he is dealing with his mother’s death. In some of the other chapters, however, it can sometimes feel that although we’ve moved along in the overall narrative of the book we are still retracing exactly what happened the last time we met that character.

The book is written with a beautiful lyricism that gives an insight into the characters and leads to, at least in the case of this overly emotional reviewer, utter heartbreak. I felt every word that Matthewson had written.

A very solid ★★★★☆
1,139 reviews5 followers
November 19, 2014
Thank you Harper Collins for the ARC of this book. I was completely intrigued by both the cover and the premise and decided to give it a try.

Of Things Gone Astray is a rather subtle book about loss of all kinds. The characters lose things that are essential to them, some physical like the front of a house or the building where one works, and others are less so, like the sense of direction or a person. These tiny losses have monumental effects on each character, causing them to change their behavior, deal with past losses or somehow transform.

Each chapter is tiny and the point of view changes every page or so, which while helping readers make comparisons between characters and the general sense of loss, it can also make it a little difficult to connect to them as individuals. The plot reminded me of Aimee Bender's fantastical realism and sense of whimsy, but the language didn't leave me quite as breathless.

I enjoyed this book and will be interested to see what others think of it. It is well-written and maybe more complex than I was expecting, but failed to move me as much as I thought it would.
Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,836 reviews230 followers
September 30, 2014
First, what a beautiful cover. The story itself is unique as people waking up in London lose things personal and dear to them. Young Jake, after having lost his mother, is drawn to everyone's lost things but he too is losing something vital. Each character has a story, and all of them are trying to continue on without those things they loved. The writing is strange and certainly original, dare I say quirky? Each story is a crack in the reader's heart, a play on loss and how it damages or even puts us on hold. It exposes how moments in one's life can cement you in place, helpless to move beyond the loss. It made me think of being in a fog of loss, all the losses we suffer and how we change or don't change because of it.
I really liked the story. It's not everyone's taste, but those who enjoy sinking into strange tales will certainly take from this moving book.
Profile Image for Sally Hanan.
Author 6 books127 followers
December 4, 2017
I liked this a lot because it was so different. While there were many characters to try and remember, the stories all came together in the end and had some resolution.

This is not a sanitized happy endings for all kind of book, but it wrapped everything up in a much more realistic way than most books.

The lost feeling the characters felt is probably the feeling most readers get when lost in a book and then they suddenly have to wake up and get it together. Maybe that's what has left this lingering with me

Well written, and it sticks with you once you're done.
Profile Image for Brooke.
736 reviews353 followers
May 3, 2018
“There is grass spreading out from the tree; it almost reaches the far corners of the room, and in some places there are flowers. Benches and chairs and tables that used to be movable have grown into the floor...It is a reminder that the world is not quite as we expected it to be.”

Fans of magical realism will fall in love with Matthewson’s debut, “Of Things Gone Astray”, the story centers on a cast of characters who have all lost something. The front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work, and their identity. It’s an odd tale, but ultimately beautiful. Each character had their own distinct voice and story that intertwined nicely with the others. One character, a boy named Jake, is attracted to other people’s lost things; I thought his character development was so interesting and liked how we saw glimpses of the items throughout the story.

I think this book would make an excellent play. It has great themes and metaphors. There were a few moments where I thought the plot was a little out there and also where the plot could have been more PG (some of the adult topics just didn’t fit the story and were unnecessary), but as a whole I enjoyed this!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
41 reviews
July 18, 2021

This book started off pretty slow and just as I was considering not continuing, it picked up. There are several different stories and it switches between them often, like a page or two then switch. All the characters ended up connected even if in a very small way. Very different and interesting. I wasn't thrilled with the ending of all the characters but most were good. I'm intrigued to see what else this author has written.
Profile Image for Charlou.
1,014 reviews10 followers
April 18, 2017
This was everything I wanted it to be after reading the description. Sometime we feel off, or lost, or out of sorts and it stays as feeling all in our heads. What if it became physical? Real. Even if in a most unusual way. Not quirky, just charming and delightful.
Profile Image for Alyisha.
683 reviews29 followers
November 10, 2014
It took me awhile to get to know the myriad of characters in Janina Matthewson's new book, "Of Things Gone Astray," and to remember who was who, but once I got the hang of it I found myself very invested in all of their stories. Each situation was interesting, though some weren't very unique (a duo who don't pay each other enough attention literally DISAPPEAR in each other's sight & memory; a girl who can't bring herself to leave a certain spot literally puts down "roots", etc. etc.). The metaphors weren't very subtle but I don't think that was the point.

My one real complaint is that the book ended before I was done with any of the stories contained therein. The abrupt ending made everything feel a little too shallow and superficial.

My other tiny nitpick-y qualm is with Robert & Mara's parenting methods. They're obviously raising a smart, creative, headstrong girl, which is cool... but they might also be creating a monster. They seriously pull her out of school because the teacher tells her that she can't stand up on her chair and sing during roll call? I can sympathize with their complaint: that joy and spontaneity and song should never be sucked out of a child's life -- that that type of feeling and the freedom to feel it and express it is what adults lack -- but it genuinely would be distracting to the class, day after day! A better solution would've been to start up a class chorus, or for the teacher to stay after with her and sing a song each day, just for a few minutes (maybe one day the song choice could be Bonny's and the next day the teacher's, or maybe they could make up new songs (melody & lyrics) together!). And then later, they don't tell her to stop visiting Mrs. Featherby so much, even though they (incorrectly) feel that she might be inconveniencing the woman. They let her do as she pleases because they don't want her to feel like someone might not enjoy her constant company? Sounds like "no" isn't something the girl hears often. If they were to keep on in that fashion, Bonny would become a selfish, tactless adult. It sucks that some situations require tact... but they do. Granted, not everything needs to be done or said "just so," as some people seem to think. Directness and indelicacy can be refreshing. Everything in moderation: some tact, some honesty; some play, some seriousness; some magic, some mundanity (this last bit the author got totally right). Actually, come to think of it, there were a lot of instances where I questioned the relationship between child & parent. It wasn't just with this particular family. (I wonder if Janina Matthewson has kids? To be fair, I do not. Easy for me to criticize). And while I'm on Robert & Mara, there was way too much sexual innuendo and coy flirting without any of it actually coming to fruition! Is Matthewson afraid to write sex scenes?

It's sounding like I didn't like this book as much as I did. I'm not sure why that is. I genuinely loved a lot about it: it was witty, quick, and engrossing. I loved the elderly couple that Delia spends time with: Mattie & Donald. They came across as artsy and real and also kind of wise. I love when Donald tells Delia, "My dear, no matter how old we get, we somehow can never convince ourselves that whatever trial we're in the middle of is only temporary. No matter how many trials we've had in the past, and no matter how well we remember that they eventually were there no longer, we're sure that this one, the one right now, is a permanent state of affairs. But it's not. By nature we humans are temporary beings" (127). His advice, however, isn't to "ride it out until it goes away." It's to "strive for a solution and trust that eventually there will be one" (127). This too shall pass.

And although I complained about Bonny's parents and their style of parenting, the relationship between her and her dad is actually really cute. She thinks he's "a wizard!" And piggybacks are never in short supply. I also loved the parts starring her & Mrs. Featherby. I love Mrs. Featherby's secret and that she calls her young friend "Small Girl Bonny." I loved (and hated; it was heartbreaking) Jake's obsession with remembering what the weather was like on the day his mother died. I loved all the cursing. I felt like it was always used appropriately, and comically, and that it always added something to a character's development.

In all, "Of Things Gone Astray" might not be highbrow literature but it was quick, pretty, and dirty, and I hope Matthewson writes more.

Profile Image for Bruce Gargoyle.
874 reviews143 followers
November 3, 2014
4.5 stars

Full review at http://thebookshelfgargoyle.wordpress... (Nov 5)

I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Ten Second Synopsis:
A half-dozen Londoners find themselves in a pickle after things they thought were here to stay - sense of direction, place of work, front wall of house, for instance - go inexplicably missing.

After reading the blurb of this book, I was initially under the impression that it was a collection of short stories. As it turns out – rather obviously in fact, given that the words “a novel” appear on the front cover – Of Things Gone Astray is actually a single novel, but it’s told from the alternating points of view of half a dozen characters. In the first few chapters we are introduced to these characters in turn, and discover to some extent what it is that they have lost – for in this novel, everyone has lost something. Or someone. Or they’re waiting for something or someone. I found it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who was who as the point of view shifts every few pages with each new chapter. Is Martin the bloke with the missing piano keys or the bloke with the missing job, I would ask myself as I came across his chapter heading. Is Cassie the tree girl or the disoriented girl? Once the story gets going and the characters start bumping into each other, as it were, it was a lot easier to keep everything sorted in my mind, and by the end I had each character down pat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and the multiple points of view in this book, as I feel I am slipping into a bit of a book slump of late, and I appreciated the choppy, quick dips into each characters’ tale that allowed me to pick the book up and put it down repeatedly without feeling like the plot wasn’t moving forward. The narrative has a certain sense of poignancy about it, dealing as it does with ways in which people cope with loss, but there was also a sense of hope and even ambiguity that pervaded the book. I felt at the end that some people might be a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any kind of moral or take-away message about dealing with grief or moving on from loss, but I felt very content with the fact that the stories just ended, some with loose ends tied up and some without.

I don’t think this book will be for everybody, but if you don’t mind something a bit different from the usual linear, one-narrator type novel then Of Things Gone Astray might be the perfect out-of-the-box find for you. Don’t forget to go into it with bookmark at the ready though – you wouldn’t want to lose your place.
Profile Image for Karissa.
3,886 reviews191 followers
March 6, 2015
I got a copy of this book to review through Librarything’s Early Review program. Initially the cover grabbed my attention and then the synopsis sounded so intriguing I just couldn’t resist. This ended up being a very intriguing and interesting story full of magical realism. The book is a bit ambiguous at points and you never really know exactly why the things that happen here happen.

This book is about a number of characters who lose things. An old woman looses the front of her house, a middle aged man loses his job (like it literally is no longer there), a old man loses the keys on his piano, a woman in her 20’s loses the ability to find her way anywhere (even to places she always goes), and a young woman loses both her girlfriend and the ability to move. Tied in to it all is a young boy who likes to find lost things and keep them.

This is one of those books that makes you think a lot. The book is told from a number of different points of view. The chapters are very short and each one is told from a different character; randomly jumping back and forth between the different characters.

There is a lot of magical realism in here. For example the front of a house can’t really disappear but it does. Also the young woman who loses her girlfriend starts to turn into a tree, which is odd. Having the man’s workplace vanish is also very magical and improbable.

The how behind how these things are able to happen is never really explained. The main point of the book seems to be that because these strange things happen they put the characters outside of their comfort zone and in turn somehow the character’s life gets better as a result. Also many of the characters, who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the book, end up having stories that overlap with each other and end up influencing each other’s life.

Yep it’s that kind of book. Not a lot is resolved at the end of the book...the characters have changed, but you still don’t have an idea for how the things that disappeared disappeared or what happened to them.

Despite the ambiguity the books ends up being a very engaging read and is hard to put down. It is a very different and quirky book and I don’t think it will appeal to everyone. However if you enjoy beautiful prose and stories that are a bit odd and don’t mind lack of closure...I would definitely recommend it.

Overall this book was very different and strangely engaging. I would recommend to people who enjoy magical realism, quirky books, and don’t mind a lack of closure in their stories. This book is beautifully written and thought-provoking, it is also humorous and quirky. I will definitely keep an eye out for Matthewson’s future works.
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