How can I describe this place? It’s an in–between place. It’s like a grand hallway that leads you nowhere, it’s like a banquet dinner of left–overs, a sports team made up of the people never picked, a mother without her child, it’s a body without its heart. It’s almost there but not quite. It’s filled to the brim with personal items yet it’s empty because the people who own them aren’t here to love them.
Since Sandy Shortt’s childhood schoolmate disappeared twenty years ago, Sandy has been obsessed with missing things. Finding becomes her goal – whether it’s the odd sock that vanished in the washing machine, the car keys she misplaced in her rush to get to work or the graver issue of finding the people who vanish from their lives. Sandy dedicates her life to finding these missing people, offering devastated families a flicker of hope.
Jack Ruttle is one of those desperate people. It’s been a year since his brother Donal vanished into thin air and the sleepless nights and frantic days aren’t getting any easier. Thinking Sandy Shortt could well be the answer to his prayers, he embarks on a quest to find her.
But when Sandy goes missing too, her search ends when she stumbles upon the place – and people – she’s been looking for all of her life. A world away from her loved ones and the home she ran from for so long, Sandy soon resorts to her old habit again, searching. Though this time, she is desperately trying to find her way home…
Ahern’s novel A Place Called Here is about loss and how people cope with it. Told in alternating perspectives of present-day Sandy, Sandy in flashbacks and Jack, a man who is searching for Sandy, the story chronicles her obsession with finding lost things. Her need to do so was spurred, in part, by the disappearance of her classmate/neighbour as a kid, and since then she feels uncomfortable is she loses something and can’t find it. Now, two decades later, she runs a missing persons agency to help others find lost people, but she herself becomes lost when searching for Jack’s missing younger brother. In the place Here, all the missing stuff from our world is transported, by some sort of magic, and within Here are thriving multi-cultural, multi-ethnic villages of lost people from all over the world.
Despite the fantasy element, the story focuses on Sandy’s need to find lost things, and Jack’s need to know the truth about what happened to his brother. With a carefully constructed narrative linking events in the past with the present, Ahern unwraps a story of loss and letting go. Jack, when searching for her, finds other people she was helping, and learns how to deal with his loss. She, for her part, who has always distanced herself from people because they don’t understand her need to find things, learns that in finding those lost things, she was losing much more in the bargain. Her relationship with Gregory was a bit unconventional, considering the age gap and the slim excuse of technicalities over ethics, but from his perspective (though not direct) we can see a man who is trying to understand why he is never enough for her.
While the writing is as beautiful as expected of Ahern, the fact that there are shifting perspectives with long chapters means that the pace suffers often. The twists at the end of the chapters, when followed chapters later, made for a slightly less enjoyable experience. Also, I felt ‘Here’ wasn’t explained well – in the context of magic realism, I felt it was warranted to know why so many things were left a mystery, and why so many things don’t make sense. But I also realize it was more about the things that were lost, rather than the place where lost things went, though the latter would definitely provide comfort. In conclusion, a good book to get ‘lost’ in. 😉