A horrifyingly believable glimpse into the near future. The book is set in 2053 and our protagonist is a man whose young daughter was abducted two years prior; the first chapter recounts the abduction, and is one of the toughest first chapters I’ve ever read. The book is tough; the father’s quest to find out why his daughter was taken, and who took her, is torturous. The man is riven by the worst imaginings, and almost totally consumed by grief and vengeance. But the book is not a gleefully nihilistic revenge narrative – it’s an unflinching look at loss and grief and guilt. What Nevill does really admirably is convey that last, torturous little flicker of hope; the man can’t give up, because what if? What if his daughter is still alive, and can still be saved from a worse fate than whatever has already befallen her? The father can’t abandon his quest, and we can’t stop reading. Despite the horror, despite the hope sometimes feeling futile, we care.
I think the compassion Nevill imbues the book with is also important when considering the world of the novel; in this well-researched 2053, society is collapsing thanks to climate change and its attendant horrors. The health service isn’t coping, law enforcement is completely overwhelmed – the state is in full retreat. But Lost Girl isn’t a macho power fantasy about surviving or thriving in such a broken world, unlike some apocalypse fiction; our protagonist wants the police to be capable of finding his daughter; he wants a a government able to deal with wave after wave of infectious diseases. And he’s pitted against the opportunists who’ve been waiting for the planet to go mad; the gangsters, the nihilists, the latently violent who’ve jumped at the chance to let their bad selves out.
It’s a really pacy, compelling, scary book. And it’s scary for two reasons; one is the creeping dread of the narrative, and the other is the inescapable knowledge that the nightmare world portrayed is our future, unless we change it.
Related reading: This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein