Lost Property by Helen Paris

Dot Watson has lost her way.

Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother’s care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself.

But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife’s purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission – one that could start to heal Dot’s own loss and let her find where she belongs once more…

Dot Watson works in the TfL Lost Property office, meticulously labelling items found on London’s public transport in the hope of reuniting them with their owner. However, it soon becomes apparent that it is Dot who is lost, grieving the loss of her father to suicide, her mother to dementia and her ever-deteriorating relationship with her sister.

What isn’t initially clear is why Dot feels guilt-ridden by her father’s suicide but Paris carefully peels back the layers of Dot and her family’s lives to expose their loss, their love and their vulnerability.

Dot herself is fastidious in details, finding safety in rules, routine and order. Her safe words (Sellotape, safety pin, superglue) echo through the novel with no real context except to calm Dot, to allow her to keep everything together and in place. In contrast to this, Dot is clearly falling apart.

Dot’s life is already poles apart from what she envisioned for herself but circumstances cause her to fall further and start looking for an escape: an escape that she finds amongst the stacks of unclaimed items, with a little help from a bottle of absinthe!

Dot’s hallucinations do cause moments of humour but more than this they portray her raw grief and her depression. Dot tries to find a story behind every item in the stacks, to give the item an identity, an owner, a purpose. But what she is really looking for is her identity, her purpose. She passionately fights for these items, believing that their worth surpasses monetary value, but she cannot apply this to herself until it is almost too late.

The characters surrounding Dot serve to reflect how isolated she has made herself. Our protagonist has few friends in her social circle and those that she does have seem to be work friends, in whom she often finds criticism. I really appreciated the roles of characters such as Anita, she never stopped inviting Dot to events even when Dot had refused several times before. Anita is the perfect model for a friend of someone with depression: keep showing up, keep listening and never give up.

Dot’s mother, Gail, has dementia and has recently moved out of the maisonette she shared with Dot and into a care home. The relationship between mother and daughter has never been as close as the bond Dot had with her father but Dot’s memories of her mother slowly unfurl into the recognition and acceptance of her as a person and a protector, rather than the background character she has always assumed her mother to be.

Dot’s sister Philippa seems to be a bit of a steamroller of a character at first, bossy and controlling in that she plans to sell the maisonette and thus make Dot homeless. However, Philippa finds her spotlight in the final few chapters, perhaps because Dot allows herself to see her sister properly and acknowledge the life and pain that they both shared. The resulting love between the two sisters is heart-warming.

Lost Property is heart-breakingly honest and open. I laughed and, as someone coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis within the family, I cried my little heart out.  I frankly couldn’t believe Lost Property is Helen Paris’ debut novel. This is the most emotive book I have read this year.

Thank you to Bookstagrammers.com, Helen Paris and Penguin Random House UK for gifting me a hard copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings:

  • Dementia
  • Suicide/suicidal thoughts
  • Hiding sexuality
  • Sexual abuse

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