Lost for Words (by Stephanie Butland)

I had never heard of Stephanie Butland when Amazon recommended this book to me. The blurb for ‘Lost for Words’ sounded exactly like my kind of book, however. A young woman works in a bookshop… a pleasant change from the many books about cake or sweet shops. The cover was appealing, too. So I put it on my wishlist, and received it recently as a rather late Christmas present.

It’s a first person account by Loveday, a quiet (and somewhat prickly) character in her twenties. She doesn’t much like people, other than her jovial boss Archie. She very much likes books, however. So when she sees a book of poetry lying on the ground one day, on her way to work, she picks it up. She’s sure someone would miss it, so she puts a note in the window of the bookshop where she works…

The narrative mostly takes place in 2016, but there are flashback chapters set in 1999 when Loveday was ten, and also a few set in 2013 when she first started going out with a young man called Rob. The story unfolds gradually, with the past filling in the details; in particular we learn why she now avoids Rob, and also why she’s so very reticent about herself and her past.

Loveday’s first nine years were very happy. She was an only child, and although her father worked on oil rigs for three weeks at a time, she loved the times when he was home, and also the quieter, more predictable periods when she was alone with her mother. Early in the book it’s clear that something tragic happened, so that Loveday spends her teenage years with a foster carer. By the time it’s revealed exactly what went wrong, it’s not a surprise.

I found the style of writing a tad off-putting at first. It’s quite informal, written in somewhat jerky sentences. There are even odd asides to the reader. But I quickly got used to Loveday’s voice, which goes well with her confused, difficult personality. She’s very likeable despite being so prickly and (mostly) antisocial.

I felt the author understood well how something that happens in childhood can have a drastic effect on a person’s life and understanding. Loveday’s fears are mostly unfounded, but still very real to her.

Some of the story is quite dark, yet it doesn’t become sordid. There are some delightful characters as well as less pleasant ones. Perhaps the ending is a bit too happy-ever-after for realism, yet it has a shocking and bittersweet tinge before the final pages. I loved the final resolution, particularly the way that one important thread is neatly resolved in a notice on the last page.

This book took a while to get going, but by the time I was around halfway through I could hardly put it down. There’s more ‘strong’ language than I’m comfortable with, and a staggering tendency for people to leap into bed with each other even on first dates (without details, thankfully). Nevertheless, I would still recommend this highly for adults and older teenagers who enjoy character-based contemporary fiction for women.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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