Sunday 12 May 2013

Lost And Found by Tom Winter

Carol wants a disease.  Nothing deadly, and nothing crippling.  She doesn’t aspire to disabled parking, for instance, despite it’s obvious advantages.  
‘It’s true I haven’t done much with my life,’ she wants to tell people, ‘but it’s the... the leprosy.’
She imagines how they would nod sympathetically, albeit whilst backing away, and even she might feel better about looking at herself in the mirror each morning: a middle-aged woman who hasn’t accomplished much because she can’t, because she’s been too busy peeling off dead skin and looking for missing body parts.
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Published by Corsair in February 2013
321 pages
It started with a letter...Carol is married to a man she doesn't love and mother to a daughter she doesn't understand. Crippled with guilt, she can't shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe. Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turns up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them
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Reviewed by Caroline Hodges
A book like this really reminds me why I love reading.  It’s one of those that draws you in, makes you care about the characters enough that not finishing the book is simply not an option.  And for that reason, you just can’t put it down.
Lost and Found drops the reader into the lives of Albert and Carol, two strangers who nonetheless affect each others lives through a series of letters. Lonely Albert is weeks away from retirement from his job sorting post for the Royal Mail.  He fears what he will do with himself once even his job is absent from his life.  All he has in the world is his cat Gloria, who recently seems to have taken on suicidal tendencies.  Carol is married with the perfect daughter, yet deeply unhappy.  But on the eve of her decision to leave her husband, he drops the bombshell that his health is deteriorating.  To express her frustration, she takes to writing letters with no address which Albert intercepts and reads.  Over time he begins to live for the correspondence from Carol; she becomes his only friend.
This book made me shed more than a few tears on Albert’s behalf.  It makes me a bit tearful just thinking about certain parts of the novel.  The longing for his beloved wife is still so raw, it just breaks your heart.  Winter writes him in such a way that you can’t help think about your own life and the great things in it and how you’d feel when they’re gone.  Was the short time Albert had with his wife worth the decades of loneliness and dedication he has gone through?   But at the same time, I can’t help selfishly thinking, I hope when I’m gone, someone will miss me even half as much.  Albert makes this book, I just love him.  
Carol I feel, suffers in comparison.  The characterisation is still excellent, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Albert is so utterly likable, it’s hard for her to compete. I think the trouble is that until the end of the book, you don’t really fully understand her regrets and subsequent unhappiness.  Which leads me to the flaw in the novel.  It all wraps up just so fast.  Winter sets a wonderful pace up until the last few chapters; then suddenly things move so quickly I felt a little outraged at the lack of respect for the characters.  This doesn’t mean I would change the ending, I wouldn’t (it’s appropriately uplifting and hopeful where I’d dreaded a sad outcome), I just feel it could easily have taken its time to unravel.
Nonetheless this misdemeanour can easily be forgiven in a novel with stunning emotional eloquence, witty and cutting humour and astonishing eye for detail regarding the human condition.
I’d rate Lost and Found as my favourite book of the year so far.  That it is Tom Winter’s debut only adds to my surprise at how remarkably beautifully it’s written.  I hope for great things in the future from him and will certainly be first in line for his next novel.    

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