Phillips, Caryl. “The Lost Child: A Novel”, Picador, 2016.
Orphans and Outcasts
I have never understood why some authors enjoy rewriting or, in this case, reimagining the classics. It is dangerous to do and a lot of hard work and many times these rewrites do not work. It is very difficult to take someone else’s plot and character and reinvent them. Caryl Phillips, however, not only shows that it can be done but that it can be done well. “The Lost Child” is a gripping and inventive reimagining of “Wuthering Heights” and Phillips sees it as “a lyrical tale of orphans and outcasts, absence and hope”. Here is a novel that spans generations and tells the story of young Heathcliff’s life before Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to his family. We read of the Brontë sisters and their brother, Branwell; Monica, whose father forces her to choose between her family and the foreigner she loves; and a boy’s disappearance on the moors and the brother he leaves behind.
These are disparate lives that are tied together by the past and that struggle to be free of it. The themes are those that are important to us today— migration, alienation, and displacement. The result is a haunting and heartbreaking story that comes from a classic but that is reworked so that it is relevant today. While it is somewhat dark and depressing and requires patience to read, it offers the reward of its being an important book.Caryl Phillips captures us with his ability to write about those who are marginalized by social norms in Britain during certain time spans. It is the author’s prose that drew me in immediately as he captured present and the past with brilliant imagery and gorgeous language. For those of us who have ever felt alienated, there is something here that we can partake of. The portrait of children who live in poverty and tragedy is unforgettable and brilliantly rendered especially when we read of their having to take care of themselves after they have been abandoned both physically and metaphorically.