Lost Girl, by Adam Nevill (according to the Guardian newspaper, “Britain’s answer to Stephen King”) is, perhaps surprisingly, a love story. Not a “girl meets boy and stuff happens” sort of a love story though. After all, this is the latest book from the man who wrote The Ritual, the first half of which is pretty much the most terrifying thing I have ever had the delight to read. No, Lost Girl is a story about love for family, and in particular about what a singular, burning love can do to a father.
The story is set in our nearish future, in the early 2050s, and Nevill paints a gloriously detailed vision of just how awful our lives might become if we don’t take collective action to manage the effects of climate change. His earth is a desperately unpleasant place to be, with public services all but crushed under the weight of mass migration, and criminal gangs taking every opportunity to exploit the weak members of society, who are struggling even to find food and shelter.
His protagonist is a man who engenders deep sympathy in the reader. His daughter has been taken, and his life’s focus has narrowed to the point where getting her back is all that matters. The magic of this story is the way that you keep your sympathy for this desperate and broken man even in the face of the appalling things he does. It’s a very dark, almost nihilistic tale and the intensity of the emotions at play here made me feel like some kind of a ghoulish voyeur. It’s magnificent storytelling.
Adam Nevill has a knack for starting stories in the middle, at a point where a bad thing has already happened, and then proceeding to put his characters through sheer hell. In The Ritual, we join a group of hikers already lost in the woods in the north of Sweden, one of whom is injured. In No One Gets Out Alive, we are dropped into the life of a woman whose life has hit rock-bottom. Lost Girl also begins in medias res, with the circumstances leading up to the abduction and the idyllic life that the family enjoyed in south-west England given only as fragmentary recollections as her father tries to make sense of what he has lost.
It would be easy just to dwell on the horror, but Nevill writes with a real eye for action. His scenes feel supremely well directed, and his backdrops are created with a cinematographer’s eye. Lost Girl is no exception, and I shudder to think how shockingly well this book would flow onto the screen. Just please, god, don’t let the hotel, the church, or the mansion in the woods ever be made into a 3D movie. Not unless the cinema gives the audience a very big sofa to hide behind!
This is a story quite unlike anything I have read for a good while. The end of the world as a whole is reflected brilliantly in the end of the world for just one man. Unimaginable suffering across continents is echoed in the physical and emotional agony this man goes through in his quest. The selfish lack of pity that those living in the north of our planet have for their fellow humans suffering in the south is paralleled by the way that… Ah. No. I won’t say. This is a journey you need to go on yourself. Put some time aside, get comfortable and pour yourself a stiff drink. You’re going to need it.