Even though I very much enjoyed Little Boy Lost, I think I am going to be in the minority on this one. Many bloggers have loved this novel and commented on the fine quality of Marghanita Laski’s writing. I agree with them in their enthusiasm for Little Boy Lost. It was one of those books that I didn’t want to put down once I had started. But I felt like there were too many tidy progressions in the plot that were so obviously just meant to move things along. It wasn't so bad that it really bothered me, but it did keep me from thinking that Laski was a great writer.
To provide a succinct, spoiler-free plot description: Hilary, an Englishman, still bereft over the death of his Polish wife at the hands of the Nazis, goes to France after World War II to find his young son. When he encounters a boy who might be his child, emotional confusion results. Is the child really his? You’ll have to read the book.
It is in fact Hilary’s emotional confusion that provides the real meat of this book. When he meets Jean, the boy who may or may not be his child, Hilary is smacked in the face with his own emotional ambivalence. So much so that I wondered whether Hilary had a heart at all. Part of me just put it down to the fact that he was English. (I know, I know...before I get hate mail from my English friends, you must forgive me my deep seated and probably unjust notion that the English are capable of an emotional detachment that can be breathtaking. No doubt this stereotype is the equivalent of those English depictions of Americans being loud, crass, slack-jawed, idiots.) But as I thought a little more about it I realized that Hilary was also a prisoner of his time and gender. What else could explain the fact that despite having a big ol' farm and plenty of money, he could only imagine taking the child if he could pawn the him off on his parents or by marrying his f*** buddy, gal pal Joyce (see there is that crass American coming through). I shouldn't really fault 1940s Hilary for not living up to what we might expect today. But then I think of the husband in Dorothy Canfield Fisher's much earlier book The Homemaker or even Martin in Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout and think "Hilary, you fool, break out of that box!" I mean really, why go searching for a son that you only intend to farm him out to someone else to take care of.
I also found myself screaming (silently) at Hilary "For god sake man give the kid a sandwich--he can't live on Raspberry soda thingies alone." And having been brought up Catholic I couldn't help but be annoyed by the Mother Superior being overly, but not surprisingly given her position, concerned about Hilary not being a Catholic. Right, better to be a Catholic orphan than the son of a non-Catholic.
I didn't mind, as many of you did, the introduction of the slutty number toward the end of the book. Perhaps clumsily inserted into the story sure, but it does add a psycho-sexual dimension that really heightens the emotional stakes. Laski does mention Hilary's sex life earllier in the book when he is hanging out with Pierre, but nothing that prepares us for the possibility that Hilary is going to let his penis make the decision for him.
And how is that for a review of Little Boy Lost? I managed to offend an entire nation, dropped and f-bomb, and used the word "penis".