This weekend I escaped the news and immersed myself in a novel about a librarian, lost stories and lost opportunities, family secrets and new friendships. The Library of the Lost and Found is a quiet, gentle read and a perfect antidote to the current turbulent times.
It was this one line description…“A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime…” that tempted me to read this and I imagined a quest, a once in a lifetime opportunity or perhaps a thrilling adventure. Within a few pages I realised that my assumptions were incorrect. Martha, a volunteer at the local library, fits the long-standing stereotype of librarians in fiction; quiet, mousy, downtrodden, lacking in a social life, taken for granted by her sister Lilian and with little excitement in her daily routine. Martha’s self worth is measured by her success in completing tasks for others, be that repairing papier-mâché dragons or sewing repairs, all of which are starred or ticked off on colour coded lists in her Super Woman notebook. As a former librarian I confess that I sighed. And yet there was something about Martha, perhaps her genuine kindness or maybe her relatable love of books, libraries and bookshops that encouraged me. As I read on I started to discover the reasons that Martha’s life had developed the way it had. The older of two daughters she had found herself in the position of carer for her invalid parents for many years therefore losing the chance to grasp the opportunities that life offered her. I have witnessed these circumstances and it is impossible not to feel sympathy for those, more often women, who find themselves in this position. Following the death of her parents Martha finds she has lost both her confidence and the ability to enjoy life as she did before. Then the appearance of ‘the mysterious book’ changes everything .
The story of Martha’s family is told through her experiences today and in part through flashbacks to her childhood. Gradually the layers of secrets are uncovered and the truth as to why her life has taken the path it has is revealed. By the halfway point I truly wanted happiness and justice for Martha, my initial irritation at her depiction long forgotten. As a child she had shown a talent for storytelling that was encouraged by her flamboyant grandmother Zelda and yet dismissed by her father. Martha’s father’s influence looms large throughout the book. His controlling dominance of his wife, Betty, and their daughters makes for uncomfortable reading at times. The family relationships and the choices the individual characters make at different points in the story would prompt interesting discussion.
There are moments of humour too and a poignancy to Martha’s trusting nature and her slowly developing friendships. However the path to restored self esteem and happiness is not straightforward and the complications caused by family members and past events make a happy ending look doubtful at several points. I did enjoy the obvious love for books and libraries displayed by the author and the inclusion of Martha’s fairy tale like stories. In fact Martha herself could be viewed as a Cinderella character. Despite my initial misgivings I enjoyed this and found myself very much wanting her to ‘live happily ever after.’