Dot Watson has lost her way.
Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother’s care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself.
But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife’s purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission – one that could start to heal Dot’s own loss and let her find where she belongs once more…
Each year I wait for that one book that grabs me by the heart and won’t let go. It’s only just February and I have already found it. That book is Lost Property. Every phrase, every sentence, in this wonderful story needs to be savoured. You can’t read this beautiful book too quickly or you will miss something worthwhile.
There is a very poignant moment where Dot remembers her father’s death and how her mother was washing and ironing his clothes to give them away to the charity shop. Dot is furious and can’t understand her mum’s behaviour. I remember a friend whose mum had taken her own life and how cross she was that her sister had started to clear her their mum’s house a few days later. She thought it was disrespectful. We have to remember that everyone handles grief in their own way. For some that clearance is cathartic, while for others it’s too painful. My mum died in hospital in 1992 but had been living in a nursing home and my brother and I had four days to clear her belongings from her room. They already had a new patient, but at the time it was terrible. In hindsight I can understand.
I was at times reminded of The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (one of my favourite books of all time) just because each lost item has its own ‘identity’. Like in Keeper, Dot gives some items their own back story. Dot also collects lost travel guides which have not been collected, taking them home and arranging them by country or other criteria. Occasionally she finds a duplicate which she then pops into the pocket of a lost coat or bag, very carefully matching the guide to the owner.
I cannot even begin to describe how much I loved this book. How much I laughed and how much I cried. The saddest parts of the story are when Dot visits her mum in The Pines care home, where she is suffering from dementia. I cried while reading – it was so beautifully written – Dot so desperate for her mum to remember something, anything. Just for a glimpse of the woman who sang like an angel.
I know one criticism is that Dot seems much older than she is, but that’s the whole point isn’t it? She is old before her time. I think she is only about late thirties – maybe 40 – but she dresses and behaves like someone’s maiden aunt. Until she finds herself again.
Her journey of rediscovery begins when Dot goes looking for an elderly gentleman named Mr Appleby, to reunite him with his leather holdall and his late wife’s purse. The only clues that Dot has to go on are a receipt from a coffee shop called Judges, that the town has a funicular railway and fisherman’s huts and that it overlooks the channel. I guessed immediately!!
But her greatest grief is over the death of her father and the guilt she feels. ‘Loss is the price we pay for love,’ says Mr Appleby. How true.
Many thanks to #NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
Helen Paris started her career as an artist creating award-winning shows that have toured internationally from the Sydney Opera House to PS122 in New York and the Edinburgh Festival. As artistic director of London-based theatre company Curious, produced by Artsadmin, she has created over 50 live art, film and performance works, supported by organizations including Arts Council England, the Wellcome Trust and the Woods Institute for the Environment. After nearly a decade living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she has returned to the UK and lives in St Leonard’s-on-Sea with her partner Leslie Hill.
Lost Property is her first novel and will be published by Transworld UK in May 2021.