Today I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Jean Levy’s debut novel What Was Lost. Read on for my thoughts and for a special guest post from Jean herself!
Title: What Was Lost
Author: Jean Levy
Publisher: Dome Press
How would you live if you had no memories? And what if you were suspected of a terrible crime?
Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.
But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her – almost as if he knows her…
As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it is clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?
What Was Lost is a gripping novel which caught my attention right from the start. Sarah doesn’t know what happened to her to make her lose her memories and she doesn’t remember a lot about her previous life ‘before’ the day that she was found, with amnesia, on a beach. From there on, the story creates a sense of confusion in that the people around Sarah, who are supposedly ‘looking after her’, don’t always seem to be nice people. This made me wonder if they could have their own agendas, and this adds to the sense of mystery surrounding Sarah’s case.
The plot is entertaining and, though I’ve read various books over the years about amensia, this describes the way Sarah tries to piece her ‘lost’ memories together in a way that I feel is convincing and realistic (not that I’m an expert, obviously). Sarah is an interesting character – though I don’t agree with all of her choices, I did empathise with her and really wanted to find out what had happened to her, just like she herself was desperate to know. With the police also very interested in what had happened (for reasons you’ll find out in the book), this added an extra sense of mystery and made me wonder, along with the police and doctors, whether Sarah’s memory had been lost because she wanted to forget something… and, most of all, whether Sarah is a reliable character or not?
What Was Lost is beautifully written; I feel like as a reader I got right inside Sarah’s mind, and Jean Levy’s writing strikes just the right balance between being flowing and descriptive, but also exciting and fast-paced. It’s a fairly long read, but it never felt like filler… only thriller! (sorry.) Some parts of the story moves along much more slowly, but this means you feel more of what Sarah might be feeling at that time, whilst at other points we find out a lot about what happened back then, through Sarah’s experiences and various ‘flashback’ chapters, which adds a level of excitement to the story.
Many thanks to the Dome Press for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.
‘…it really did all begin with an apple.’
After several years of academic writing, which I didn’t much enjoy, I decided to write a novel. Well, I’d had stories in my head all my life. They were full of people who did interesting things, found themselves in difficult situations. Heroes would save them. Sometimes, the hero was a version of me, but not a very realistic one. There were good people and bad people, and the bad people were always defeated, occasionally converted to goodness by the good people. My novel would be about such people.
I wrote words, chapters. I discovered, almost immediately, that there is a chasm between the unreal world of fiction and the occasionally real world of science. And writing fiction when you’ve spent years writing about genetics, biotechnology, psychology and medicine is not just a case of opening a new folder and writing a first paragraph. There are considerations: characters, locations, timelines, plots, narrative sequencing. And that’s just for starters. So, I shelved my emergent novel and went back to college to study literary things. And it was very interesting. Especially the assignments. One early assignment required the first three chapters of a novel. A novel? Surely not the one on the dusty shelf. I had been 50,000+ words into that and didn’t want to revisit the first three chapters, not just yet. Not in my state of literary naivety.
Our tutor offered advice: start at the beginning and write about what you know. I thought back to a beginning. And a clear image of that chart of letters in Primary School popped into my mind: A is for Apple. I could remember it clearly. An interesting thing, this remembering. So, I decided to write about memories, about keeping them and losing them. And that’s when Sarah began. She was living alone, following some kind of trauma which had erased her memories back to the time she was nine years old. I had no clear idea about the nature of the trauma. I’d work that out later. The important thing was how this loss of her past was influencing her life. Then, out of the blue, just a few pages in, she had an encounter with a guy in a supermarket. It was an apple-related incident. And suddenly, with her nine-year-old’s experience and her adult physiology, Sarah was smitten. But the three chapters ended there. Next assignment, Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray, and Sarah joined the other 50,000+ words on the dusty shelf.
By now it was becoming clear that the English degree wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to investigate psychonarration, free indirect discourse, non-linearity, Genette’s treatise on narrative discourse, getting published. I took a course in Creative Writing and wrote a lot. For the main assessment I needed to submit 35,000 words of linear narrative so I turned to the dusty shelf, removed Sarah from half way down the pile, and worked out what had caused her to lose her memory. But, having done that, I couldn’t stop thinking about her and the guy in the supermarket. So, when the course finished I wrote Sarah’s story. She became a successful writer of children’s books, who had forgotten how to write. In fact, she had forgotten everything except those first nine years. It was a great story. I called it Malus. I prepared to submit it to agents. That in itself is a revelation. Diplomas and degrees do not guarantee adulation. They declare technique not imagination.
Anyway, the fates did send me an agent and introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of publishing. And the rewrites began: the third-person omniscient narrator became Sarah’s first-person narrative … everything was now through Sarah’s eyes. A great improvement. Then some non-linear sequences were called for. Another undeniable improvement. More of this, less of that. A new title. How do these people know this stuff? But they do.
The result is What Was Lost. It’s still a story about Sarah and the guy in the supermarket. And it still all begins with an apple.
[About the Author]
Jean spent several years in genetics research before abandoning the laboratory to pursue a career in academic publishing both in Holland the UK. She has been a database trouble-shooter, an editor, and a writer for publishing houses, pharmaceutical companies and the EU. She has degrees in Botany, Pathology, Philosophy, English, Law and Creative Writing and is currently completing a doctorate in Linguistics.
In her spare time she has campaigned for the environment and read a lot of books, the most memorable being Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, everything by Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, and a few things by Sebastian Faulks, Calvino, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell and Shakespeare.
She currently lives in a converted barn in the South Downs with her husband and a
Heritage Plant Collection, accumulates Christmas tree decorations and aspires to writing
multi-genre fiction, travelling on the Orient Express and seeing the Northern Lights.
[Follow the Tour]