Book review: Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

4/5 stars

Audible version, narrated by Imogen Church

Trigger warning: domestic abuse

We follow Loveday Cardew, who has worked in the Lost for Words second-hand bookshop since she was 15, and full time since she left school. She is a tough, pierced and tattooed book lover, who is determined to make it on her own and take no support from anybody. It took me some time to start to like Loveday as I found her quite abrasive and overly defensive. She has reasons, to be sure. And as the trauma of her past is gradually revealed, and her vulnerabilities exposed, my understanding of and sympathy for the character deepened.

Without spoiling too much I can say that Loveday’s parents relationship at some point became abusive, and that she was placed in foster care after a traumatic incident. Although she was lucky with her carer, and although she has people in her life that love her and care for her – such as the wonderful and larger than life Archie, bookshop owner extraordinaire – she is too damaged to let them in.

I always find it difficult to read about domestic abuse, particularly when there are children involved (not necessarily themselves being abused, as Loveday was not, but victims nonetheless). It hits too close to home, I guess. It made me wonder about how my life would have turned out if my parents marriage had ended in more dramatic fashion, like that of Loveday’s. Though I was also filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my weird, wonderful, warm family, sprawled across northern Europe. Because I know without a doubt, that had this been the case, I would not have been left to the foster care system.

Anyway, I’m letting things get away from me a little…

So, of course, early on in our narrative, a man enters (stage left). He’s a poet, and seems like a nice sort of fellow. But Loveday initially fends off his advances until circumstances throw them together. Everything goes well for a while, but because Loveday insists on keeping Nathan (our affable poet) at a distance and refuses to tell him about her past – because how could he possibly love her if he knew (you know, the classic “I’m too damaged to be loved” complex) – things inevitably unravel. I won’t go into any more detail in regards to the storyline, lest I spoil it, but will say that though dramatic I found it plausible enough.

I got this primarily because it’s set in a bookshop. I love books about books. I love characters who share my passion for books. And Loveday and Archie definitely fit the bill. Archie is charming, eccentric and very kind – exactly the man you’d want running your workplace and posing as a father figure (to the extent Loveday lets him).

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, which was in turns funny, exciting, heart-breaking and interesting, though I would have liked to get to know the main players on the stage a little better. I feel like we only barely glimpsed the surface of most of the characters.

And while I didn’t really mind the book’s focus on poetry, I found the poems in the book themselves not terribly interesting. They were OK, but they didn’t really add anything to the story or atmosphere. Admittedly I’m not usually big on poetry and it takes a little extra for a poem to speak to me.

It was in all a very enjoyable listen, and I would definitely recommend it for book lovers. I also really liked Loveday’s idea of having the first lines of books that meant something to her as tattoos. Almost enough to consider getting a tattoo myself. Though I’m not sure how poignant this quote would be as a tattoo: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” (nor “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”).

Incidentally both this and another book I read recently referenced Anna Karenina. I took that, and the fact that I just got Anna Karenina on sale from Audible as a sign that it was at last time to give Tolstoy a try. And so far I’m rather enjoying it. So thanks also to Ms Butland for that extra push.

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