It’s hard to pen this review without revealing certain details of its plot. The following review may contain some spoilers. If this may affect your future enjoyment of the book – I would come back to my review after reading the book.
Late last night I finished Marghanita Laski’s poignant and soul searching novel ‘Little Boy Lost’ published by Persephone Books.
Once in a while, there comes a book that is so much more than the series of events it retells. Some stories have the power to evoke major existential questions, deal with emotions so raw and that lie so heavy on the heart, that the novel becomes deeply psychological and grapples with the character’s inner conundrums and dilemmas, inviting the reader to take part in the discussion. ‘Little Boy Lost’ is just such a book.
Before the Second World War, English poet and writer Hilary Wainwright meets Lisa, a Polish girl who becomes the love of his life. Subsequent to their marriage, World War 2 strikes and the pair are torn apart – each to their own war related undercover activities. Hilary works as a British agent and Lisa is involved with the Resistance in Paris.
Lisa gives birth to a child, a son who Hilary manages to see for one day – the day after he is born and the very day before the Germans occupy Paris. And then Lisa’s ruse is discovered, the child is smuggled away to a friend for safety and the chaos of war ensues.
In the enfolding terror and panic surrounding the War, Hilary’s small family is torn apart. He hears from Lisa, one last time. In her letter she fears for her safety and that of her child and pleads to Hilary, to come and rescue the child, keep him safe, in the event of something happening to her. And then the inevitable happens… Lisa is discovered.
On Christmas Day 1943, Hilary is alone in London celebrating Christmas with his Mother and sister. A Frenchman, a friend of Lisa’s turns up on his doorstep and tells him that his son has disappeared without trace.
“It was only then that Hilary fully realised that his son was lost. Since Lisa’s death he had ceaselessly dreamed that he would one day find happiness with a child who was not yet an imagined person but only a surviving symbol of his and Lisa’s love.”
‘Little Boy Lost’ charters Hilary’s rocky road to searching for his lost son, three years after he goes missing. There are certain tenuous clues, a possible candidate- a little boy who might be his son. But the trail is very difficult to trace, the child is merely a five year old with little or no memory of his past life, having been separated from his mother at the age of two.
However, Hilary is struck with the moral dilemma of not wanting to open himself up to vulnerability, of loving and losing again … And though many points favour the fact that young Jean (the orphanage boy in question) may be his son, there is no instant recognition, no facts that absolutely determine that the boy is his, at least to Hilary’s doubtful mind.
Set in post-war France, in Paris and an obscure provincial town blaster beyond recognition in northern France, ‘Little Boy Lost’ is also a depiction of the mass destruction that ravaged France and what it was like to live in France at such a time. The images that Laski evokes are haunting to say the least.
“This street curved away so that only its beginning could be seen from the square. He rounded the curve, and then found a wilderness of desolation. Save for a roofless church higher for the contrast of emptiness, there was not a building standing for half a mile in every direction. Red bricks and grey bricks, roof tiles and stucco, reinforced concrete spouting thick rusty wires, all lay huddled in destruction. Nothing seemed to have been cleared away save what was necessary to allow a few tracks to pass through, it was ruin more complete and desolate than Hilary had ever seen.”
‘Little Boy Lost’ is a book about ideals, about personal freedom and the search for happiness. It is a book tinged with poignancy but there are glimmers of hope tucked away in its pages. The innocence of the young child, his pleasure in simple pleasures and objects and his happiness in experiencing them – is joyful.
I loved this book so much. From start to finish it was perfectly penned. And the ending still gives me the shivers …