Alfie is lost. His mother has died of cancer, he has abandoned his promising juvenile football career his father is locked in his own guilt and grief, unable to communicate on any significant level with his son. Alfie has cut himself off from all sources of emotional nourishment to deal with his own grief and guilt-guilt at playing a vital match while his mother lay dying in the hospice. He cannot face the pity of his friends and while he longs for everything to be back to normal he knows that can never happen. Immobilised by anger and regret he retreats further and further into himself, avoiding his home and his father and visiting the places where he was most happy with his mother.
It is when he is visiting one of these refuges, the seashore, that he meets Alice. She, too, is lost, trapped in a cycle of flight from her mother’s violent partner Ross and condemned to live in one tiny B and B room with her two younger brothers. She is wracked with a potent mix of fear of Ross finding them and anger at her mother’s inability to fully rid herself of him. After a hostile beginning, the two form an unlikely alliance, each finding something in the other which is missing from their lives and which they can trust.
Ainsworth writes with conviction about the difficult territory of male grief and how it isolates so utterly because those experiencing it rarely have the vocabulary to discuss it. She weaves in its components clearly and demonstrates how they erode what society expects in the behaviour of males, young and old. When Archie is his team’s star player, this provides a framework within which his friends can respond to him. When he steps out of that territory friends drift away, unsure of how to deal with the situation.
The narrative alternates between the past and present and Ainsworth tackles Alfie’s Mum’s illness and death through his eyes. She spares the reader no details, writing up to and including the moment of death, highlighting starkly the very different ways in which Alfie and his father react to it. Lost is a story of great emotional rawness but also one of redemption, of a knowledge that the cliche ‘Life must go on’ is a cliche simply because it is true. Alfie, his father and Alice find their way along the next part of the road by sharing the bedrock of emotion which lies underneath the worst experiences.