Review: The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen


Title: The Lost Letters of William Woolf

Author: Helen Cullen

Published: June 4th 2019, Graydon House

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Graydon House/Edelweiss


My Thoughts:

William Woolf works in the Dead Letter Depot in East London. He, along with his colleagues, is tasked with reuniting letters and parcels undelivered, due to missing addresses, illegible handwriting, smudged ink and torn packaging, with their intended recipient.

“He now was convinced that some letters found him because only he, with his particular personal collection of experiences and insights, could crack their code. Other letters depended upon different detectives, of that he was sure, but some were searching specifically for him.”

While William generally finds his job eminently satisfying, it’s a point of contention between him and his wife, Clare. A couple since meeting at university, Clare and William were happy for many years, but for some time now their marriage has been faltering, and it’s this struggling relationship which is the focus of Cullen’s novel.

I had, to be honest, been expecting a lighthearted, whimsical novel from Cullen a la The Lost Letter Mysteries aired on the Hallmark channel, but The Lost Letters of William Woolf is a more thoughtful and sober story that questions if love is lost, can it be found again?

Cullen sensitively portrays the inner conflict of both William and Clare as they contemplate the state of their marriage, and wonder if it can be, or even should be, salvaged. The author explores issues faced by those in many long term relationships such as domestic drudgery, family planning, unmet expectations, and differing ambitions. The Dead Letter Office is in part a metaphor for the breakdown of communication, and connection, between William and Clare.

“Was it a million little incremental changes over a long period of time? Or something obvious he had missed? If their essential selves were still the same, couldn’t they find each other again?”

Though I found the pacing to perhaps be a little slow, it does befit the meditative tone of the novel. The writing is lovely, and there is a nostalgic quality that reaches beyond the ‘old fashioned’ charm of letter writing.

A poignant, ruminative novel The Lost Letters of William Woolf is an engaging debut from Helen Cullen.

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