Adam Nevill’s The Lost Girl: a Reappraisal
Adam Nevill’s The Lost Girl: a Reappraisal
An overlooked masterpiece of apocalyptic fiction
The Lost Girl was Adam Nevill’s seventh novel, published by MacMillan back in 2015 whose arrival attracted little in the way of media attention beyond the hardcore horror crowd, some of which noted its subtle change of direction for the author. By this time I first read Lost Girl I was already a long-term fan, but my current interest in this particular title was reignited very recently by Anthony Watson’s fascinating criticism Dreams and Shadows: An Exploration of the Novels of Adam Nevill. Watson’s thoughts on Lost Girl led to a long overdue reread of this incredibly bleak and startingly powerful title. Strangely, in articles concerning Nevill’s fiction Lost Girl rarely gets a look in, it never appears of the never-ending ‘best of’ lists recycled by sites such as Book Riot, even online horror groups such as the incredibly popular Facebook group Books of Horror routinely blank its existence. On closer inspection one might argue this novel is a genuinely overlooked modern horror classic, top heavy with an oppressive dystopian atmosphere and an overpowering cry for help as the environment is flushed down the toilet.
To casual horror readers The Ritual (2011) is the Adam Nevill which probably springs to mind first and foremost, followed closely by No One Gets Out Alive (NOGOA, 2014), which was later filmed by Netflix. Lost Girl was sandwiched between the latter and his final book for MacMillan Under a Watchful Eye (2017). Tired of being ignored by big publishing who did little to promote his work Nevill then made a brave change of direction into the world of independent/self-publishing. His own unique brand Ritual Limited was born, its debut release being one of his most memorable novels, The Reddening (2019). One wonders how successful Lost Girl might have been if it has been released on this indie range, instead of being swallowed up and ignored by a glut of new titles being pedalled by a big publishing house?
Back in 2019 I wrote a long article for Ink Heist, It Dances in the Shadows: A Primer on the Fiction of Adam Nevill, which ranks the author’s fiction. You can read it here:
In this piece I placed Lost Girl at number two (NOGOA was number one and Last Days was three). Whenever this article is eventually updated The Reddening will definitely leap into the top three and Lost Girl and NOGOA might well swop places. But what makes Lost Girl such an unforgettable read and ripe for discovery by new readers?
Adam Nevill is one of the finest supernatural horror authors at work in the world today and of the eleven novels he has published thus far Lost Girl features the least paranormal activity of them all. In actual fact it relies much more heavily on ambiguity rather than the terrifying creatures we routinely find in his other fiction. Depending on how you interpret this book, it might even be argued there is nothing otherworldly at all. In Dreams and Shadows Anthony Watson notes that Lost Girl is the least ‘Nevillesque’ of his novels, a term he uses to identify trademarks common to the author’s fiction. I doubt very much that the lack of supernatural beasts or haunted houses had much to do with the apparent box office failure of this novel. However, the MacMillan paperback looks more like a thriller than a horror novel and this perhaps marketing played a part, with it falling between two posts and casual horror fans being simply unaware of its existence. Because Nevill’s work has had more than one publisher and because of this the stylistic ‘brand’ of cover is not always consistent, however, Lost Girl is the title which looks like a square pen in a round hole in comparison to his other releases.
Rarely have I read a novel written before the arrival of Covid-19 which has such strong ripples of the virus. The levels in which Lost Girl mirror Covid are quite simply uncanny. Set in 2053 the world is a mess and has been beset by a combination of environmental and viral disasters. Coronavirus is mentioned, Chinese wet markets are also noted, masks are worn and there are repeatedly new variants (coming from countries like Hong Hong) which are more deadly than the predecessor. The vaccines which do work are now only accessible to the very rich and there are food shortages everywhere. Does this sound familiar? It should. However, part of the beauty of Lost Girl is that all this horrible stuff only goes on in the background and it drip-fed to the exhausted reader. None of this is truly integral to the main plotline, but the level of detail is exceptionally vivid and one could argue it is more shocking that the stuff you might find in Nevill’s supernatural work. It is clearly an incredibly well researched novel and for those budding authors thinking of writing apocalyptic fiction and struggling to get beyond the cliches and usual tropes then this book should be explored and devoured as an A-Z textbook.
Whilst viruses cull millions from the world population the critical state of the environment does the rest. Once again, this happens in the background of Lost Girl and it is revealed that Africa has been abandoned, other countries are dust bowls and northern countries are being overrun by millions of climate refugees nobody wants or has the resources to feed or house. In the UK the super-rich hide behind gated communities and use deadly force to protect what they have stolen and now refuse to share. Adam Nevill never gets preachy about the perils of climate change which again plays second fiddle to the main plot, the search for the Lost Girl.
The backdrop to the Lost Girl, with its deadly viruses and environmental disasters, ranks amongst Nevill’s finest settings and more than matches the grim interiors of the house on 82 Edgeware Road in NOGOA or the ancient forest in The Ritual. It was certainly a departure in style, instead of the usual claustrophobic closed settings of isolated houses we have a sweeping panoramic and terrifying believable vision of Britain which does not seem so far away from reality as it spirals painfully to destruction.
Written in the third person, a single character dominates Lost Girl who appears in every single scene of this exhausting 430-page novel. The unnamed father is not portrayed as a hero, is not particularly brave, spends most of his time living in fear, pain or exhaustion and is existing through every parent’s worst nightmare moment by moment. The disappearance of their only child. In the world I have just described of climate destruction and viruses the snatching of a four-year-old girl from a garden barely registered as a news story with the novel picking up the action over two years later with the father systematically running down dead lead after dead lead with his search becoming an all-consuming obsession to the extent that he barely recognises the wholesale destruction going on around him.
Any parent who lost sight of a young child for a few brief panicky minutes will have palpitations and cold sweats when the little girl disappears from the family home on the south coast of England. The rising terror when both the mother and father realise she is gone and hear the roar of a van engine turning the corner at the end of their road never to be seen again is hair-raising. Flash forward two/three years there is only wreckage as the father uses anonymous contacts in the police to track down known paedophiles and child smugglers for any snippet of information or clue. The police are seriously overstretched and are very happy for any semi-vigilante to do some of their dirty work. Many murders are never investigated with the broken father leaves a trail of bodies wherever he goes. But he is no Charles Bronson, Jason Statham or any other invincible killing machine, his strength to the reader are his vulnerabilities and the fact that he will go to any length (and I mean any) to get his daughter back.
He stumbles upon a lead which seems to have promise and brings him in the crosshairs of an incredibly powerful gang, King Death. This organisation lives and breathe through chaos, fear, intimidation, torture and murder by decapitation anyone (and their families) who cross them. This gang was an outstanding creation and the closest Nevill gets to the supernatural entities which haunt his ten other novels, having no visible leader or organisational structure, killing a member is like cutting the head of a hydra, two grow back. Anthony Watson mentions in Dreams and Shadows that the colour red is a theme which frequently features in Nevill novels and the sequences featuring the prophetic ‘Red Father’ truly grip by the throat.
Make no bones about it Lost Girl is an astonishingly bleak book where even if the small picture has a smidgen hope, mankind truly seems doomed. Chaos is everywhere but even in the darkest of moments the father will not stop looking for his lost daughter and there is a huge amount of humanity in that and also a small glimmer of light. This superb piece of fiction ranks amongst the very best of Adam Nevill’s work and even holds its own against the best dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. It fully deserves to stumble out of the shadows of his better-known fiction and is ripe for reappraisal and discussion.
Lost Girl By Adam Nevill
Lost Girl is a dystopian nightmare from the master of horror Adam Nevill.
How far will he go to save his daughter? How far will he go to get revenge?
It’s 2053 and climate change has left billions homeless and starving – easy prey for the pandemics that sweep across the globe, scything through the refugee populations. Easy prey, too, for the violent gangs
and people-smugglers who thrive in the crumbling world where ‘King Death’ reigns supreme.
The father’s world went to hell two years ago. His four-year-old daughter was snatched from his garden when he should have been watching. The moments before her disappearance play in a perpetual loop in his mind. But the police aren’t interested; amidst floods, hurricanes and global chaos, who cares about one more missing child? Now it’s all down to him to find her, him alone . . .