Review: Lost Property by Helen Paris

Title: Lost Property

Author: Helen Paris

Published: 13th May 2021, Doubleday

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse UK/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“Lost Property itself has something of the past about it, like a museum, a depository of memories, a library of loss. I think that is why I have always felt at home here.”

Dot Watson has worked at the London Transport Lost Property office for twelve years where she finds satisfaction in taking care of lost items and reuniting them with their owners. Though once she planned to have a busy globe-trotting career, now she only travels vicariously via guidebooks saved from the Pit.

“You see, I know about loss. I know its shape, its weak spots, its corners and sharp edges. I have felt its coordinates. I have sewn its name into the back of its collar.”

A story of love, grief and guilt, we slowly learn how it is that Dot lost the future she dreamed of, instead finding herself living alone, never venturing further than the few miles it takes her to commute to work, or visit her bossy sister when summoned, or her mother’s care home. Dot is a sympathetic character, it’s clear she suffers from some anxiety and carries a heavy burden. She sees herself as abandoned and unwanted like many of the items in the lost property that remain unclaimed.

‘They . . . objects are time machines, in a way; they can recall . . . the people we have lost.’

Something is triggered in Dot when a Mr. John Appelby comes searching for his late wife’s holdall, accidentally left behind on the number 73 bus. In combination with her sister’s insistence that they sell their mother’s maisonette where Dot is living, her mother’s worsening dementia, and changes at work, Dot begins to lose her grip on herself. Paris handles Dot’s increasing emotional distress with sensitivity, and the major events she confronts with genuine compassion.

“There’s a difference though, between being lost and being left”.

Paris makes astute observations about memory, family dynamics, and of course the emotional value of objects. There is more tragedy in Lost Property than I expected, though ultimately there is also forgiveness, acceptance, and hope. There’s some humour, and even a little romance.

“Found: Holdall Details: Leather (golden syrup) Woman’s purse (bluey-lilac) Bulbs (tulip) Trowel Place: 73 bus”

Told with warmth and tenderness, each chapter is headed with a tag, like those Dot attaches to the lost objects in her care, bearing the details of something lost, or found, not just objects like Appleby’s holdall, but also people, and intangibles. I found it a little slow and seemingly directionless to start with, but was soon drawn in by Dot.

“…ordinary objects, extraordinary objects, objects that contain in their bodies a memory, a moment, a trace of a life lived, a person loved.”

An accomplished debut from Helen Paris, Lost Property is a touching and poignant novel.


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