Melbourne is having its coldest winter for a decade, so what better than to settle down with a good book, and The News Where You Are, Catherine O’Flynn’s recently published novel, was just the ticket. For some reason or other, O’Flynn’s book was available in Australia early, and having been very impressed with her first novel What Was Lost, I snapped up a copy of her latest at the earliest inst and couldn’t resist reading it last weekend.
“What Was Lost” was nominated on the 2007 Booker long list and won the 2007 Costa Prize for best first novel. If awards are given for originality, O’Flynn thoroughly deserved all the accolades she garnered.
So the new one, The News Where You Are, does it live up to expectation? It certainly does!
Catherine O’Flynn has a remarkable ability to invest her novels simultaneously with humour and pathos. This was the case in her first novel and in her new book as well. There is a melancholic sensibility underlying The News Where You Are, but it is also very funny in a dryly humorous way.
Main protagonist Frank Allcroft is a TV news presenter on a regional television network. Frank is generally content with his lot in life; he has a wonderful wife and a sweet young daughter upon whom he dotes, and he devotedly visits his difficult mother in the retirement home where she lives. Unambitious, Frank has been delivering local news items of remarkable triviality for over fifteen years, and has gained a following by being an inept humorist, peppering his news reports with lame and badly executed jokes. However, he is haunted by the stories he reports, especially those involving the unloved and forgotten of society; lonely deaths undiscovered for months, the funerals of whom he attends as a mark of respect. He is particularly haunted by the hit and run death of his early mentor in the news department, Phil Smethway, who had gone on to become a successful media celebrity before his untimely death, and the connection between Phil and one of the lonely deaths.
Frank is also disturbed by the changes being wrought in his city, particularly the demolition of his Architect father’s post war buildings, which one by one are disappearing from the cityscape.
At once a mystery novel, a satire on modern culture, and a study in character, there is much to like in The News Where You Are. It is a worthy successor to the acclaimed What Was Lost, despite the negative review of Olivia Laing in the Guardian, who appears to be guilty of pushing her own premise regarding the diminishing success of authors, who have best selling first novels and fail to achieve the same success with their second. Fay Weldon’s review in the same publication is much kinder and a tad more perceptive on what O’Flynn is trying to achieve in her novels.
In my opinion The News Where You Are, establishes Catherine O’Flynn as a writer to follow. So what if the novel does deal with lost things (a different kind of lost) as in the first book, I really like her style of writing, the out of the ordinary (in literature) locations in which she sets her novels and the unusual careers of her characters.
I found the book to be just as much a page turner as What Was Lost, and was both moved by its poignancy and amused by its dry wit.