A jaded bibliophile comes to terms with her dark past and learns to live in the present.
Set in a used bookshop, Butland’s (The Other Half of My Heart, 2015, etc.) latest novel tackles love, grief, violence, and friendship. Loveday Cardew—an anti-social, tattooed 25-year-old—works at Lost for Words, a secondhand bookstore in York. Despite her name, Loveday doesn’t much care for anyone or anything except for books. She’s reserved and painfully sarcastic, and the surrounding characters either exacerbate or quell this: Archie, the caring, larger-than-life bookstore owner; Nathan, the handsome, cravat-wearing poet; and Rob, the sullen, dangerous ex. Switching between the past and present, the chapters are organized by genre—Poetry, History, Crime, Travel, and Memoir—and correspond to the plot (i.e., Poetry chapters center around Nathan). Told from Loveday’s perspective, the casual first-person narration provides an entry point into an otherwise closed-off character, which works well save for a few startling fourth-wall breaks. Loveday’s descriptions of her childhood are among the strongest in the book: “His boots, which smelled of salt and oil, rubber and leather, lived outside,” and “the sea was part of their story.” As her charmed life descends into darkness, one life-altering moment shatters her world—and sense of self—forever. The buildup to and aftermath of this moment feel earned and purposeful. However, other things do not. Unfortunately, the book sometimes veers into unnecessary stereotypes about mental illness by equating (perhaps unintentionally) being mentally ill with violent behavior. If the novel feels particularly harrowing at times, the well-drawn romance helps temper and elevate the story. The hopeful ending is unexpected but not unwelcome—it’s exactly what Loveday deserves because she’s been through far too much.
A tale full of romance and violence demanding readers not judge a book by its cover.