Caroline Wallace (writing as Caroline Smailes) wrote one of my favourite books of recent years ‘The Drowning of Arthur Braxton’ (so good it’s being made into a film!) so when I got my hands on a copy of her latest novel “The Finding of Martha Lost’ I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I had the opportunity to escape into another of Caroline’s magical, whimsical worlds and nervous because – what if I didn’t like it?
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.
Caroline takes us back to 1960’s Liverpool – Lime St Station to be precise, where we are introduced to Martha, a sweet, naïve sixteen year old girl who was left at the Lost Property office when she was a babe in arms.
Having grown up with the uber-religious woman she called “Mother” who decided to keep her when her 90 days were up, the foundling has been in the station her whole life and pretty much runs the office while “Mother” grows fat off the wage. “Mother” told Martha that she is a Liver Bird, and so if she ever left the station, it would crumble. As a result, poor, trusting Martha has never set foot outside the station. She loves cake, spinning around (often instead of walking), her friends in the station, her little corner of the world, and books, but lives in fear of “Mother” and her infamous moods and bullying. When “Mother” comes to an untimely, yet natural end, Martha’s home is threatened, and with it everything she knows and loves. This takes the teenager on a voyage of discovery to find out who her birth family is so she can protect the only life she has ever known. Along the way she finds help and distraction in some unusual corners, such as William, living in the Williamson tunnels beneath the station with his bowler hat and his mismatched shoes, Elisabeth, the perfectly coiffed coffee and cake shop owner, George the Roman soldier & Max – well, I’ll let you find out about Max yourself. A sprinkling of Beatles legend and you’ve got yourself a cracking little novel.
If you have ever read any of Caroline’s work before, then you’ll know what to expect. Whimsical, yet beautifully intelligent, emotional, magical and all of it shrouded with an almost heartbreaking sense of innocence. Think of movies like Amelie and Hugo, bright colourful films surrounding bright, colourful characters that just shine with love & goodness. But despite the fairytale feel to this book, you can’t help but fear for her characters, in some ways they just don’t seem equipped to cope with what life is going to throw at them and it’s hard to watch them heading into situations you know aren’t going to go well for them. But watching Martha grow and follow her path to her own personal truth is like watching a bird you’ve hand reared fly away, up into the skies for the first time. Heartbreaking, funny & uplifting, an absolute gem of a book.