Author: Caroline Wallace
Publication Date: 10th March 2016
Source: Review Copy
She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.
In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.
But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out - if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything...
A little over a week ago I shared a review for one of my Books of the Year so far, In Her Wake. I spent probably more time than was needed deciding what to read next after finishing it because of the effect that book had on me. I picked up The Finding of Martha Lost because of an intriguing blurb, and because I know Lime Street Station. What I wasn't expecting was to come across a book that, whilst somewhat different to In Her Wake, has had a similar effect on me. It is a story I'll never forget, one that consumed me whilst I was reading it, and one with characters who I think will still be living in my thoughts some months down the line. It completely took me by surprise, and already I am recommending this book to anybody who will listen. I was talking about it to a girl I work with and I was practically hopping on the spot with excitement as I tried to tell her what this book was about without spoiling it too much, and that's the problem I have with this review, it's such a difficult book to discuss especially when there's so much I want to shout about.
My opener when discussing this book is to say it's about a girl called Martha Lost who lives in the lost luggage at Lime Street Station. Now, anybody who has visited Lime Street would ask how a girl could live in such a boxlike structure. But, The Finding of Martha Lost is set mostly in the 1970's and rather than the station it is today, Caroline Wallace has created the most unique, imaginative and magical place to set a story and in terms of setting alone, it's the best I've read this year and I thought to myself when reading it that I hadn't wished a place was so real and that I could visit it since Hogwarts. Even this week I've been walking through the station and looking at it differently, as if those tunnels and passageways that Caroline brought to life in my mind so well are suddenly going to appear and offer me access. The character of Martha Lost felt so real that I felt as if I was walking (I'm not brave enough to spin like Martha does every morning) her path, and that her legacy somehow lived on through the station. For a character to not even feel fictional, to feel like someone who actually lived is a rare thing for an author to achieve in a story but Caroline Wallace has with this remarkable piece of work.
I don't even want to talk about the plot too much because the story unfolds in a way that you really need to know as little as possible about it before you pick it up. Martha Lost has been lost since she was a baby, told by the woman who took her in, Mother, that she was abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris and since then, she's waited in the lost property at Lime Street Station for someone to claim her. Sixteen years later, and she's still hopeful. Martha is simply the most delightful character, with an outlook on life far beyond her young years and it wasn't that she was written older than she was meant to be, but because the life she's led so far has forced her to grow up fast and even then, there are numerous moments throughout the book where Martha comes across younger than she's meant to be because of her naivety and because she knows nothing of the outside world, because Mother told her the station will crumble if she leaves it. And so she builds a life for herself through lost property, where she has a unique ability to touch an item and find out its story, and through books and her wonderful best friend Elisabeth who runs a cafe on the station and offers advice and encouragement throughout the story to allow Martha the courage and strength to finally find out who she really is. There are numerous other characters vital to this story, but I really think readers should discover them for themselves.
Caroline Wallace is a wonderful writer, and behind all the magic there's a real story to be had here and it is certainly an emotional one in places as Martha finally starts to discover who she really is. I could fill this review with some of my favourite quotes from the book but it was perhaps the ones from Martha that stuck in my mind the most. "I read somewhere that most four-year-olds smile four hundred times a day, but then, by the time they become adults, they only smile twenty times a day. I'm not sure I want to be an adult." "People are always in a hurry. They only realise the worth of something after they lose it." Martha Lost isn't a character I could relate to as such, but Caroline allows the reader to connect with her, to understand her and, as the story progressed I felt as if Martha was offering hope to my own life. Showing that there are ways to get through those difficult moments that we sometimes have in life, and that's one of the great things about this story, I think people are going to take so many different things from it. Martha's love of books is perhaps one of the things book lovers will enjoy most about this book, especially when they discover something about where she stores them. If I had to compare Martha with somebody, I think it would have to be Matilda. Both her outlook on life and her upbringing. Her passion and love for books practically made the book glow in my hands and what it also did for me was make me think about the stories of books beyond the words within them, especially second hand books that have been passed around many different people.
I lived and breathed this novel whilst reading it, and I was close to bereft when I turned its final page. Caroline effortlessly captures the era this book is set in, and those sights and sounds, the music and the city come alive on the page. I wasn't ready to leave these characters or the setting behind but thankfully, it lives on in my mind and this isn't a book I'll only be reading once, but one that I will return to again and again and I can definitely see it becoming a favourite of mine and I'm almost certain it'll be on my Books of the Year list come December. It's one I think I'll read again and notice different things, and it'll become one of those books where it's like meeting up with old friends. The Finding of Martha Lost is a remarkable, magical, perfect novel that completely took me by surprise and offered me one of the most enjoyable reading experiences and journeys I have ever had in a book. Please if you have this book on your TBR, or think you would like to read it, do not even hesitate to push it right to the top of the pile because it's a decision you will not regret.