‘Lost and Found’ by Tom Winter is a short and unassuming book. On the surface, there’s little to mark it out from the rest of the field, but behind it’s light tan cover and simple drawings is a wonderful book that will make you laugh, cry and above all, avoid Croydon.
‘To say that London ends at Croydon is only half true: stripped of hope and worn down, London really crawls into Croydon and dies.’
That observational gem appears on page 2, and is the first of many. Winter’s eye for detail is withering. His uses his prose to dissect the diseased body of twenty first century life, exposing the drudgery and futility of human existence. Fortunately he’s very funny whilst doing it. Lost and Found can be depressing in one sentence and filled with life affirming humour the next.
The story follows Carol and Albert. As the novel opens Carol is returning home to leave her husband. Her shotgun wedding has survived nearly twenty years, but with her husband more interested in World of Warcraft than his wife, and a daughter who treats her with little more than contempt, Carol has decided to retake ownership of her own life. This plan crashes and burns when her husband reveals he has a lump on his testicle.
Trapped by indecision and self-loathing Carol starts to write her feelings in a letter to the universe which after a rush of adrenalin, she posts. Enter Albert. Albert is a post office worker, celebrating forty years service. Coming up to retirement he has become an anachronism; a relic of a bygone era. Treated with casual contempt by his colleagues, Albert is pushed into a closet to sort the undeliverable mail. Here, attracted by the smiley face on the envelope, he opens the first of Carol’s letters. His life is never the same again.
The strength of ‘Lost and Found’ is its characters. Carol and Albert are beautifully created. Their hopes, and fears are captured with great tenderness. Their back-stories are rich and believable adding further poignancy to their story. Carol’s family are well-realised. Her relationships with them are agonising, but wholly believable. Carol’s foundering marriage and turbulent relationship with her daughter are all too real, as is the disastrous relationship with her mother.
‘It’s obvious why she called. Not to apologise, of course, not even to discuss it, but rather to pretend it never happened; to overlay the memory with the usual inane chitchat.’
Albert’s only meaningful relationship is with his cat, and this too is beautifully drawn. His hapless colleagues and dastardly next door neighbour fill out an inspired ensemble cast.
As Carol lays bare her soul, Albert becomes increasingly troubled by her plight. Perhaps, at the end of his life is a chance to give it some meaning. Every thread of the story is compelling. Most of them rely on the fact that life mostly sucks, yet somehow Winter has suffused each of them with warmth. Kindness comes from a number of unlikely sources and as the novel closes we are left to think that yes, maybe life does suck, but it can be pretty amazing too.
The reader inevitably wonders whether Albert and Carol will meet; we can’t help hope that they do. It’s a difficult line to tread, bringing them together risks an overdose of schmaltz, failure to do so could leave the reader feeling cheated. Winter’s answer to the problem was as elegant as it was unexpected. The final chapter was entirely in keeping with book and left joy in my heart and tears in my eyes. A wonderful, heartfelt book that encapsulates everything I love about reading.
Many thanks to Corsair Books for an advanced copy of this book.