Caroline Wallace, if you haven’t come across her before, is one of the most wonderful writers I know. I haven’t read a single one of her books which hasn’t packed a devastating emotional punch, as well as touching humour and she deploys magical realism with grace and ease. If you haven’t read The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, then you ought to. Now. And she’s a really lovely person to boot. So with this in mind, you can imagine my reaction when I heard she had a new book coming out.
1976. Martha Lost lives in Liverpool Lime Street station, and has done so ever since she was handed in to lost property after being abandoned on a train from Paris to Liverpool sixteen years previously. Since then, she has been cared for by Mother, an abusive evangelical Christian who runs the lost property. In addition, Martha is a Lime Street Station ‘liver bird’, meaning that if she were to step out of the station, it would collapse, and cease to exist. Or so Mother says. But one day, Martha comes home to find her mother has died. This alerts Management to the presence of unregistered teenager working in lost property. Without a birth certificate and NI number, Martha will be kicked out – jeopardising the future of the entire station. Anonymous letters begin appearing in lost books, claiming to know about Martha’s past – but will Martha be brave enough to delve into her history in time? Perhaps – with the help of her best friend Elisabeth, who runs the cafe next door, George Harris the Roman soldier and William, the homeless man full of sad memories.
In the meantime, the whole of Liverpool is filled with excitement over the appearance of a suitcase which may have belonged to Mal Evans, a close friend of the Beatles. Max Cole, an Australian journalist is in town to write the book which may make his name. He senses that Martha may be able to help him – but her friends think he spells trouble.
From the moment Martha Lost spins – yes, literally – on to the first page, to the last (a Scouse Glossary – I plan to address everyone as ‘John’ and ‘Queen’ from now on), this book is absolute joy to read. Martha is a delight to be with – an optimist despite an upbringing which would have crushed many – with a penchant for polka dots frocks, spinning and cakes. Yes, she’s naive, overly trusting of the wrong people, and occasionally frustrating – but I missed her when I wasn’t reading. Much the same way Elisabeth feels I imagine.
The novel has a deep emotional heart, which stayed with me for long after I’d finished reading it – and the climactic scene had me in tears on the bus (it’s always on the bus…and watching Dumbo the night before didn’t help.) The supporting characters are also wonderful – and so vividly drawn. From Mother, with her dark smocks and belt for beating; William, a homeless man described as a ‘child in an adult’s body’, haunted by the bombings which killed his parents when he was a child; the slimy Max, determined to make his name with a book about the Beatles, despite being ‘more of an Elvis man.’ The comic touches are simple but really funny – for instance the budgie named John ‘because Mother said a name wasn’t a name wasn’t a name unless it was in the Bible.’
A funny, touching and lyrical story of fairy tales, friendship and finding yourself, The Finding of Martha Lost is already one of my top reads of the year – and I would urge everyone to pick up a copy.
The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace is published 10th March by Doubleday. My thanks to the publisher for sending us a copy for review.