Leo Tolstoy writes in the opening of Anna Karenina that ‘every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ And Anita Frank takes that sentiment to a whole new level of writing. Frank’s novel The Lost Ones offers its readers ghosts, murder, drama and a lot of dirty secrets whilst portraying family tragedies and their consequences.
Set in 1917, The Lost Ones hovers between the Victorian and the modern borrowing the best of both worlds. The story opens with Stella Marcham, the main protagonist of the novel, who has just come back to England from the battlefields in France, where she worked as a nurse, having lost her fiancé there. After a slow recovery Stella journeys to Haverton Hall to look after her pregnant sister. Haverton Hall is where the Victorian clashes with the modern and the storyline dives entirely into the traditions of Victorian ghost story writing. On arrival Stella can sense that something is off and so does her maid Annie, a girl with supernatural gifts. There has been a murder years ago and the victim still wants justice which Stella and Annie are more than willing to provide. The two women unearth long-forgotten secrets in order to put the ghost to rest and whilst doing so Stella manages to find a way to deal with her own loss and grief.
Anita Frank’s novel attempts to do a few things at once in regards to the time setting. WWI serves as the background for Stella’s grief and lets the reader experience the changing times where women were slowly being allowed into the world of men. However, with her journey to Haverton Hall the story seems to go backwards in time introducing the reader to Victorian traditions and beliefs. It is there that Stella’s opinions get undermined and her voice seems to get lost which is often the case in Victorian stories. This setting works brilliantly for the ghost plot twist as it follows the Victorian conventions and it is reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. However, when the war is discussed in the family mansion there is a clash that is not entirely believable to read as the story simply feels too Victorian and very distant from the 1917. However, with this said, there is a good reason for both frames, the Victorian is the best setting for the ghost and the crime whilst the modern ages, the World War, explains Stella’s behaviour and confidence and although at times the two frames don’t read very well it is important that we have them for they explain a lot of the story and its characters.
The fact that the majority of the characters are female is one of the best thing about the book. It is 1917 and the reader sees that women are finally being allowed more freedom and Frank highlights this by giving the reader a number of strong, female characters. Stella is opinionated and confident. Annie, the humble maid, is the gifted one and she is Stella’s sidekick in uncovering the secrets of the house. And then there are the women of the house. They are older and they have been brought up with Victorian etiquette in mind. However, the more Stella discovers, the more the reader learns about these women and how unconventional they are. They are murderers and they are victims, they are liars and they are cheaters. It is these women that make the story so refreshing and interesting. The fact that there are only a handful of male characters to questions them is a nice conspicuous shift from the conventional Victorian story that The Lost Ones could have been.
As a whole, Anita Frank’s novel definitely tells a story that is worth reading. Apart from the murder and the ghost, it is a story of tragedies and losses and how life goes one even when our loved ones don’t. It is a story about overcoming grief and finding meaning after that. And the fact that there is an actual ghost and a great ghastly murder mystery simply makes it even more compelling to read. For anyone out there who enjoys a good ghost story stained with blood, The Lost Ones should definitely be on your TBR pile.