Review: Lost & Found by Tom Winter

26th March 2013

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*I received this novel from the publisher, Corsair, in exchange for an honest review.

From the inside flap:

Carol is unhappily married to a man she doesn’t love and mother to a daughter she doesn’t understand. Stuck in a life she doesn’t want and crippled with guilt, she can’t shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.

Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turn up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

Sometimes when I read, I feel I am hovering above the story, acutely aware of the tactics of the writer, the outline, the plan. I wonder if this is the editor in me, or if it is simply the sign of a reader. With Lost & Found by Tom Winter, unfortunately, I was aware of a supreme lack of character.

Carol and Albert are both extremely unhappy, though Albert’s unhappiness is much easier to understand. Feeling worthless and lonely with his impending retirement looming, Albert encounters well-meant but still hurtful comments from coworkers and nastiness from his neighbor.

Carol, on the other hand, tells us she is unhappy, but it’s difficult to understand why. She has a teenage daughter who, on the whole, seems much better than many sullen, angry teens in books. Her husband seems simple but relatively kind. Yet she is devastatingly unhappy and plans to leave her husband until he divulges some life-changing news. She begins writing letters, and Albert looks forward to them in the way only a truly lonely man can.

Lost & Found is a wonderful example of how two readers can read the same book and come away with vastly different impressions. Leeswammes really enjoyed this book. While I did finish it relatively quickly, though, it wasn’t a favorite. I found the characters (Albert being the only exception) wooden and irredeemable. The main impetus for Carol’s angst isn’t really revealed until much too late for me to empathize with her and understand her (often) mean-spiritedness toward her husband and mother. Without any background, the bitterness she feels toward both is difficult to see in any other light. The letters are the best part of this novel, and it would have been interesting to stick with Albert’s perspective more and learn of Carol only through her letters.

This novel has been compared quite a lot on Goodreads to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, another novel I wasn’t particularly charmed by. Lost & Found, though, is a simpler (and less preachy) attempt to explore those whose unhappiness is so profound that the only means of hope is escape.

  • Your first sentence so accurately describes how I felt about Me Before You and I was rather “meh” about Harold Fry, too.

    • That’s one I’m still trying to review. It left me so…confused as to what type of book it was and what it was trying to do.

  • Jen, funny how our opinions about this book differ! I did like Harold Fry a lot too, so I guess this type of book appeals much more to me than to you.

    I understood Carol quite well, she never had a chance to do much with her life and her husband took her for granted, wasn’t much fun to be with. Before she was old, she wanted a life for herself. I understood that (I’m her age, so that maybe helps).

    I do sometimes notice how writers try to manipulate readers or have a clear plan (I do some editing every now and then myself) but I can’t honestly remember if that happened to me with this story. If it did, I probably wouldn’t have looked quite so favorably upon it.

    • I didn’t necessarily feel manipulated in this book, but I was very aware of exactly where the author was going/what he was attempting to do.

      Did you notice, too, that nearly every encounter with someone outside the two of them, the people were horribly mean? It was odd.

      But, that said, I’m glad you enjoyed it. And yes, I think this type of book just isn’t for me. Particularly because most people read and loved Harold Fry. I’m just odd man out. 🙂

  • Charlie

    Interesting to read this, as I read Judith’s review before, too. The reasons you give for Carol’s unhappiness works on the surface, but I know exactly what you mean about the difficulties of bitter characters seeming to not hold true to the rest of what’s presented. (Most recently I had this issue with Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping A Beat until she let us know the reason, though that was early on enough to keep interest.) Given your thoughts here and Judith’s I think I’m definitely going to have to read it.

    • I’ll definitely be curious to see what you think of it. Judith and I often have similar taste in books, which is why when it differs, it interests me. My first thought is usually: What did I miss?

  • I am not an editor, but I find myself doing that too – comes from a prolific reader’s appreciation of the work that goes into creating great novels I think. It’s not always a bad sign….

    When I first read the synopsis I was quite interested in this one but characters that are bitter and act helpless often really annoy me (as in real life) so perhaps it’s not for me. I didn’t enjoy Harold Fry as much as many did either for similar reasons.

    • Most definitely – I guess I question myself because I do edit, so sometimes I feel hyper aware.

  • I too have no editorial experience/expertise, but I do find myself ‘outside’ of a book I’m reading — usually when it isn’t going well — as I try to wrangle a way in, so to speak — to understand why I’m not digging a book. This one will be a total pass for me. Thanks for the honest review!

    • Yeah, I’m not sure this one would be for you. Did you ever read Harold Fry?