The article in The Australian Women’s Weekly caught my eye straight away. Three smiling vibrant women who each seemed strangely familiar to me. They could have been women I knew from school, or from sport, or from the local neighbourhood, and it seemed incongruous that these happy photographs should be married to the chilling caption: MISSING MUMS.
These women, these ordinary every-day mothers, had vanished, leaving behind a plethora of unanswered questions, a tangle of suspicions and mistrust, and the shattered lives of those who had loved them. I felt quite overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy, for the mothers themselves and everything they had missed out on – birthdays, weddings, grandchildren – and for their family and friends and the debilitating uncertainty that they were still living with, years later. I imagined myself as the missing mother, and then imagined myself as a daughter left behind. I read the article three or four times, trawling for clues as to what might have really happened to these women. In Marion Barter’s story alone, there seemed to be so much conflicting evidence. I tried to rationalise Marion’s odd behaviour before she went missing, and to find some explanation for why she might want to escape, or not be totally honest with her family. Had customs made an error? Who, exactly, did the police speak to that time on the phone? Was the stolen wallet the missing link, the key to everything? What, out of all that contradictory evidence, could be eliminated by some simple explanation? The most disturbing thing was that I couldn’t quite shake the deep-down feeling that Marion Barter was alive.
Every now and then something goes missing in our house. I’m sure this happens in every household, but my reaction can be quite – there’s no other word for it – obsessive. I search every nook and cranny of the house. I wake in the middle of the night, suddenly remembering an obscure location where I have not yet checked, and have been known to jump up then and there – in the middle of the night – to go to investigate. The most significant item I’ve lost is my car keys. I invested hours and hours searching for them (I even went through the rubbish bins!). The keys were never found; I had to pay a lot of money for a replacement set. Ten years on, I still occasionally find myself wondering What, exactly, happened to those keys? The fact that I don’t know, and never will know, is enough to drive me quite mad. Maybe I am a product of my generation. We have resources at our fingertips, answers at the click of a button. We aren’t used to things being grey or unclear or ambiguous. One thing I do know for sure is that if my mother, or my sister, or a friend, vanished like Marion did, I would never be able to let it go. I would never be able to put it behind me and move on. I would be looking for answers, for clues, waking in the middle of the night and conjuring up new explanations, until my dying day.
In Once Lost, I tried to capture some of that conflicting backdrop. Louise’s mother was not perfect: she had an unhappy marriage, an abusive partner, and a history of ‘zoning out’. One day, while Louise was at school, she took her purse and some clothes and disappeared. Sixteen years later, Louise is an accomplished young woman, but the only way she can get through the uncertainty that surrounds her mother’s disappearance is to channel all her energy into searching for her. What keeps her going is the deep-down belief that her mother is alive, and that one day she will know the truth of what really happened the day her mother disappeared.
I wrote most of Once Lost in a state of uncertainty myself: I didn’t decide what happened to Louise’s mother until the very end. Because I am an author, and this story isn’t real, I was able to insert some certainty in the ending. Louise does find some answers, some closure, which is something that has been denied to the families of those three beautiful women whose faces have stayed in my head since reading that article in The Australian Women’s Weekly.
Are some things better left unfound?
Best friends Louise and Emma grew up next door to each other in a grim inner-city suburb of Dublin.
Now Louise, an art conservator, is thousands of miles away in Sydney, restoring a beautiful old painting. She meets Dan, whose family welcome her as one of their own, but she will always feel lost until she finds her mother who walked out when she was just eight years old.
Back in Dublin, Emma is stuck in a job where she is under-appreciated and underpaid, but her biggest worry is her ex-partner, Jamie. Emma has lost so much because of Jamie: her innocence, her reputation, almost her life. Now she is at risk of losing Isla, her young daughter.
So where is Louise’s mother? Will Emma ever be free of her ex? Both women frantically search for answers, but when the truth finally emerges it is more shattering than they had ever expected.
About the Author
Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, County Cork, and moved to Australia in 1995. She worked as a finance director in the information technology industry until the release of her first novel, Executive Affair. Her second book, Just Business, was published in Ireland and Germany and these novels, plus her third, High Potential, were released in Australia in 2008 and The Better Woman in 2009. Once Lost is her latest novel.