The Lost Child

Anne Atkins, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-14006-9
This circuitous debut by British writer Atkins grapples with a woman's abortion as it affects her entire family--and comes down rather didactically on the conservative side of the issue. A complex structure (which masks a weak plot) shifts between chapters dealing with the childhood past of Cassandra, or Sandy, and sections called ""Jottings,"" which are the present-day journal entries of the adult Cassandra, or Caz. Caz is a successful children's-book author who frequently mentions missing a mysterious Poppy, presumably a sister who has died or moved away, who had been her partner and book illustrator. In the childhood narrative, which itself alternates between first- and third-person, young Sandy acts as if Poppy is her beloved younger sister. In this latter section, Atkins drops more clues that Poppy doesn't really exist. It comes as no surprise that Poppy turns out to be an aborted baby: when Sandy was six, her mother announced to the family that she was going to terminate a pregnancy--a fact that Sandy, quite obviously, never learned to accept. Adult Caz's personal life--a new relationship; the novel she is writing about herself and Poppy--is only lightly developed. Strewn throughout are related, high-pitched moralistic asides; one bemoans European and Western civilization for no longer valuing children's lives. Despite fluid prose and rich evocation of Sandy's life as a six-year-old, the ""surprise"" of Poppy's identity isn't surprising enough to carry a novel more interested in preaching than in storytelling. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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