"Lost For Words" is my first "recommend to anyone who reads" novel of 2018. Set mostly in the Lost For Words bookshop in York, this novel follows Loveday Cardew as she decides whether and how to move beyond surviving in the refuge she has built for herself in the bookshop and start living a richer life, shaped by hope rather than fear.
I liked Loveday. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is a loner, not just because she has poor social skills but because she doesn't like most people. Most of the time, she prefers spending time, hunting, shelving, selling and reading books than she does talking to people and she has no problem with that.
Yet Loveday is not entirely who she wants to be. She has a secret that she hugs to herself that keeps a little more distance between her and the world than she would like to have. She knows that keeping the secret secret prevents her from being herself. She fears that sharing the secret will destroy the small safe space she lives in.
This is a novel about trust: how hard it is to win, how easy it is to lose, how necessary it is for happiness. Loveday has three men in her life: the larger than life owner of the bookshop who rescued her and offered her safe haven, the unpleasant and perhaps unbalanced ex-boyfriend who won't accept the ex designation and the young man, full-time magician and part-time poet, who she has just met. Her interactions with them, with the books in the bookshop and with her own past create the landscape through which Loveday is trying to find her way to a better future.
"Lost For Words" deals with abuse, male violence, mental illness, guilt and the possibility of hope while staying down to earth and credible. Loveday is someone I can easily imagine meeting. Someone hard to get to know but worth the effort.
One of the things I liked most about the book was the way Performance Poetry was used as a vehicle for the characters to find out more about themselves and each other. The delivery was unpretentious and natural, powered by a love of words and a NEED to speak. The poems were worth listening to as more than a means of moving the plot along.
The plot often has the tension and pace of a thriller rather than a romance or a piece of gentle introspection on the impact of life choices on identity. There are violence and hate at life-threatening levels. There are dark secrets and broken minds. There is also a deep understanding of the power of kindness.
I think this is a first-class book. I would have expected it to get the same kind of profile as "Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore". Sadly, the publishers don't seem to have done well by this book. They've given it a cover that suggests some kind of Jenny Colgan meets cosy mystery hybrid that doesn't reflect the character of the novel at all. They've released it under two titles:"Lost For Words" and "The Lost For Words Bookshop".
I suppose I should look on the bright side: they did publish a remarkable book, even if they don't seem to understand what's remarkable about it. I recommend the audiobook version, superbly narrated by Imogen Church.
You can sample her performance on the SoundCloud link below.
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I've now bought Stephanie Butland's earlier book, "Letters To My Husband" an epistalatory novel that I have high hopes of.
Here's what the publisher says:
Dear Mike, I can’t believe that it’s true. You wouldn’t do this to me. You promised.
Elizabeth knows that her husband is kind and good and that he loves her unconditionally. She knows she hasn’t been herself lately but that, even so, they are happy.
But Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when Mike dies in a tragic drowning accident. Suddenly everything Elizabeth knows about her husband is thrown into doubt. Why would he sacrifice his own life, knowing he’d never see his wife again? And what exactly was he doing at the lake that night?
Elizabeth knows that writing to Mike won’t bring him back, but she needs to talk to him now more than ever . . .
How much can you ever know about the people you love?