Zana Fraillon, The Lost Soul Atlas, Hachette Australia, July 2020, 240 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780734419934
Twig’s father disappears at night into the city’s black markets, and sometimes brings home a taste of fruit from Heaven: Fruit of the Gods. Twig adores his Da, but now that he’s eleven he wants to be given some freedom, and some responsibility—and he wants his Da to recognise that he has skills. When he follows his Da into the markets one night, it is the end of him, and of his Da.
Well, it seems that way until Twig emerges into the hinterland of the afterlife, accompanied by the skeleton of a raven, chased by the gods (who love to devour the memories of the newly dead). Twig is convinced his father has not died. He must find him and restore their life together. But to do this, Twig discovers, he must become a protector of memories. He must use an ancient map to place six small bone in the real world at ‘Crossover’ sites. This might seem crazy enough as a plot for a novel, but it is only half the weirdness of this Alice-in-Wonderland world, where logic doesn’t have to be logical and words can mean what they please, and spiders can blow bugles.
Twig’s semi-criminal street adventures with Flea, Squizzy and Preacher are a series hair-raising mishaps, while the visits from the Hoblin and her thugs bring darkness and danger into the story.
Prize-winning author, Zana Fraillon writes in a lively, inventive, playful, rhythmic style throughout. Her novel barely gives the reader time to say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, what just happened?’ before another absurd and dramatic episode races into view. Though there is almost no modern technology in this novel, and no social media, it does play with recent trends in the use of the third person pronoun. The character Flea, neither a girl nor a boy, goes by ‘they’ throughout the novel. And most importantly it offers humanity and empathy to children who live on the streets of large cities in all societies across the planet.
As the plot takes hold of the novel, there are revelations, betrayals, dilemmas, disappointments, and opportunities for hard decisions that might just bring epiphany and growth to the main characters. It’s a race to the finish.
Recommended for readers from 9 to 14 years, or any adventurous reader wanting a new kind of novel.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy