Chris's Reviews > Of Things Gone Astray

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson
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's review
Mar 28, 2017

it was amazing
bookshelves: adult, not-graphic, light

What a delightful book. It is spare and quirky and dryly humorous. Though it includes numerous fantastical occurrences, I wouldn't quite call it magic realism; more like metaphorical absurdity. Surreal things happen, and the characters grapple with them just like anything else that happens, because sometimes life feels absurd.

This is a book about people--none of whom realize it--who have lost themselves. Their routines have become habits of action without thought, and they've lost track of who they once aspired to be and to what might give their lives more meaning. They don't realize they themselves are lost, but they are all confronted, at the start of their stories, with the loss of something else, something unexpected and unrealistic. The opening sentence:
Mrs. Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.
Another character goes to work one day only to discover his job has disappeared--it is as though the building never existed, all of the related contacts are gone from his phone, and there is no record of his employment or the company's existence. Another loses her sense of direction: if she walks so much as a block from her house, she is immediately disoriented and wandering.

The stories, along with those of a few other characters, are shared in a series of short, alternating chapters, vignettes that weave in, out, around, and through each other. Those people are all, of course, unmoored by their losses, forced out of their comfortable ruts and left to drift in confusion. And they are all gradually spurred to find solutions to their predicaments, to seek, hopefully (open-endedly), new habits and fulfillment.

Interspersed with the main stories are other, solitary scenes about lost things, some literal and others figurative, such as this one:
The Looks.

Winifred Graham lost her looks. She hunted for them carefully and methodically, but they were all gone. It seemed remarkable for them to have all disappeared at once, but although she tried, she could not find a single one.

Her looks had been so many. So many looks, and they were glorious: a look to show a secret, a look to freeze blood, one to curdle milk, a look of longing, a look of rejection, a look of despair. A look of love.

It would be several weeks before she managed to leave her house. To confront a world in which she would now have to rely on words.
Thankfully, Janina Matthewson has no problem relying on words; she manages them masterfully. And her tales of people learning new ways to confront the world entertain, arouse, and linger.

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Quotes Chris Liked

Janina Matthewson
“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 may 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, this one right now, is a permanent state of affairs. But it's not. By nature humans are temporary beings.'
'You're saying i just have to ride it out until it goes away.'
'Not at all, my dear. I'm saying you have to strive for a solution and trust that eventually there will be one.”
Janina Matthewson, Of Things Gone Astray

Janina Matthewson
“There's nothing like forgiveness for making a person feel guilty. There's nothing like understanding for making a person feel undeserving. Because if someone is willing to forgive a weakness, they deserve better than to have put up with it.”
Janina Matthewson, Of Things Gone Astray

Janina Matthewson
“If left unused, conversations can grow rusty over time. The opinions and feelings we've expressed before, when left to their own devices, can grow sluggish and curmudgeonly. They become too used to sitting alone and unconsidered, and if you ask them to move, their joints can ache, or parts of them can crumble away. Sometimes you can return to an opinion you've not visited in years and find it's died and rotted away without you even noticing. Sometimes a feeling we assume we'll have for ever can abandon us and leave a gap we don't notice until we suddenly feel the need to call upon that feeling.”
Janina Matthewson, Of Things Gone Astray

Janina Matthewson
“Robert was silent for a moment, watching his daughter try to coax the ladybird off the rug and onto her finger. He wanted to warn the bug away; the finger of a five-year-old girl is a safe place for no one.”
Janina Matthewson, Of Things Gone Astray

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 28, 2017 – Shelved
March 28, 2017 – Shelved as: adult
March 28, 2017 – Shelved as: not-graphic
March 28, 2017 – Shelved as: light

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