Book Review of “The Lost for Words Bookshop” by Stephanie Butland
Loveday Cardew hasn’t had an easy time of it. When she was only 10 her life fell apart, but 15 years later, she has a job in a bookshop in York, which is ideal for her, because she likes books much more than she likes people. Although Loveday thinks she’s escaped from her past, now it seems like its coming back to haunt her.
I’ve never read anything by Butland before, but apparently, she’s published several novels already. As a book reviewer, the opportunity to read any book with the word “bookshop” in the title is immediately enticing. The fact that the novel takes place in one of my favorite British cities, York, was also a huge draw for me. Add to this the aspects of a strong female protagonist and a touch of a mystery, and you’ve got me completely sold. I mean, who wouldn’t love a young woman who gets tattoos with the first lines of her most beloved novels (including one of my own all-time favorites, “The English Patient”).
What I didn’t bargain for with this book was just how humorous this novel would be. Butland draws Loveday with an acerbic wit that is mixed with fierce independence together with a good dollop of self-depreciation, where many of her funnier observances are directed towards the reader, thereby breaking the proverbial “fourth wall.” This works very well because it lightens up some of the heavier aspects of Loveday’s past life. Loveday is also self-aware enough to realize that she doesn’t know everything, and while she’s not ready to work it all out just yet, she knows she’ll have to eventually. It was really a pleasure to watch how Butland developed Loveday, and I feel that this is one of the greatest strengths of this novel.
The mystery part of this book is also very well devised, and Butland certainly knows how to plant the seeds and not give away too much. In this way, when the mystery is finally solved, it comes with a very satisfactory twist. Mind you, I think some bits of the ending were a bit on the obvious side, with some things a touch too convenient, but I was glad that the last bit of Loveday’s closure wasn’t detailed since that would have been way too much. I always prefer it when some things are left to my imagination at the end of a novel. I should also mention that I was a touch disappointed that Butland didn’t give us more of a feel for the city of York, because I love it so much. However, that might have distracted from the plot and the characters, so I can forgive her for that.
None of these niggles were any major drawbacks in this book, but there was one thing that kept me from giving this novel a full five stars. That was the inclusion of some poetry. To explain, there’s this love interest for Loveday in this book, named Nathan, and he holds a weekly poetry slam. Despite her initial trepidation, Loveday goes with him, and Butland includes the poem he reads. Later, Loveday reads one of her own poems. No problem there, right? Well, yes there was. To begin with, I wasn’t really impressed with the poems. I found them to be lacking in imagery, somewhat too self-apparent and they seemed more like works of prose that had been artistically chopped up than poems. This is, of course, a matter of taste and I’m sure other readers won’t mind them as much, and one might think that poetry isn’t Butland’s forte. This was why I was even more disappointed when Butland included another poem at the end of the novel that was much more to my liking. However, what really bothered me was when Loveday’s poem appeared, it seemed to be in the exact same style as Nathan’s poem. I’m sorry, but no two poets would write so similarly, no matter how much influence one has on the other. That just felt a bit lazy on Butland’s part, I’m afraid – but I’m willing to bet that this won’t bother most readers. So, although in general, I really liked this book, and can recommend it quite warmly, I can’t give it more than four out of five stars.
St. Martin’s Press will release “The Lost for Words Bookshop” by Stephanie Butland on June 19, 2018. This book is available (for pre-order) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Kobo audiobooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), eBooks.com, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.