SECOND OPINION: Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland

Review published on March 10, 2018.

Now twenty-five, a traumatic event when she was ten years old resulted in Loveday being taken into care; life as she had known it changed beyond recognition when she was moved from her childhood home in Whitby to a foster-home in Ripon. Books and reading had always been a pleasure she had shared with her mother but once she went into care they became so much more than that. They became her refuge, more trustworthy than any human relationships, and also a means by which to shut out the realities of the losses she had faced. When she was fifteen she discovered “Lost For Words”, a second-hand bookshop in York and, as a result of an encounter with Archie, its larger-than-life owner, started working there on a part-time basis. When she had finished her A Levels she decided not to go to university because she was desperate to escape the care system; instead, she moved to a flat in York and started working full-time in the bookshop. This felt like a safe place, somewhere she could lose herself in books and, as Archie was so sociable with customers, could minimise her interactions with people. With her rather spiky, anti-social persona, her nose-ring, dyed hair and various tattoos on her body, quotes of the first lines from some of her favourite books, she makes it difficult for anyone to get close to her. Over the years Archie has got closer to her than anyone else but, even with him, she keeps her defences up, reluctant to let him know anything of the secrets from her past – secrets she is desperate to keep to herself.

With well-paced tension, the author gradually reveals the reasons behind Loveday’s almost impenetrable wall of defences. With the present-day story interspersed with two strands of flashbacks, one to her childhood and the other to more recent experiences, the traumas of her past are exposed. One of these involved her experiences with a mentally-disturbed man with whom she had lowered her defences sufficiently to start what turned out to be a disastrous relationship, thus reinforcing her belief that getting close to people was far too dangerous. I thought that the author managed these switches in time-lines in a way which powerfully captured the sad, scared, angry, lost child within Loveday; a child in desperate need of nurturing but who couldn’t trust that anyone could meet what felt like overwhelming needs – overwhelming to her and, she feared, to anyone who tried to get close to her.

I thought that the personalities of all of the characters were fully rounded, complex and entirely credible. With an impressive understanding of the psychology of loss and deprivation, there was never a moment in the story-telling when I felt that the author put a foot wrong in her development of each of them. Through learning the back stories of the characters, it became easy to understand what drove their behaviour and this, in turn, made it possible to empathise with them – even with those whose actions caused such damage to other people. Apart from growing to love Loveday, I also fell in love with the wonderful, flamboyant Archie, and with gentle, reliable Nathan, the poet, both are characters who play such a central part in Loveday’s gradual willingness to start trusting both her own, and others’, emotions.

I loved the use of poetry and prose which ran through the story like a rich seam of beautiful, thought-provoking reflections on the power words have to transform people’s lives, however damaged those lives may be. I also appreciated the descriptions of Whitby and York, locations I know well and which were vividly brought to life for me, adding an extra dimension to this wonderful story-telling.

It felt to me as though Stephanie Butland was never “lost for words” in this reflective, thought-provoking story about abuse, deprivation, grief, loss, mental health issues and, ultimately, the restorative power of love. The serious way in which these issues are explored ensures that this is no lightweight, “chick-lit” story but is, instead, one which will remain vivid in my memory for a long time.

Linda Hepworth 4/4

Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland
Zaffre 9781785762598 pbk Apr 2017

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