It is 1976 and Martha has been lost all of her life and has no idea how her story begins.
Found in a suitcase in the Lime Street station in Liverpool, she has lived her whole life under the domineering finger of her Mother, an overly religious woman who fears the devil. Martha works at the stations lost property office. It’s a good fit for Martha has a gift for finding things and the people they belong to.
Her life changes when Mother passes away. Not sure what part of her story has begun, perhaps part six. She tries to settle into her new motherless life, but somehow still under her thumb. Martha is the Liver Bird of Lime Street and has never left Lime Street station. Without her, the station would crumble to nothingness.
Thank goodness she has a few distractions in her life. There is Elizabeth that works next door in the coffee bar. She’s always encouraging Martha to let go and be free and always has a slice of cake for her. There’s a boy that’s dressed as a Roman solider that watches her from afar. There’s also a homeless man that uses a fishing pole to snag food out of rubbish bins.
There’s even an Australian tourist, Max, who has a suitcase full of Beatles recordings and photos that were thought to be lost. He asks for Martha’s help to find the ashes of Mal Evans, a man that is credited with helping the Beatles on their rise to stardom.
Then Martha receives a letter from station management asking her to provide her birth certificate and her National Insurance Number or face eviction. The lost property office is all she has ever known, her whole world.
Elizabeth tells her to write to someone that could help her so Martha devises a plan. She places a poster on the wall outside the lost property office that reads: DO YOU KNOW MY MOTHER OR FATHER? She receives an answer written throughout the entirety of The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather and thus starts communication with someone who perhaps knows how her story started.
Will Martha be brave enough to find out who she really is?
My plot summary fails to capture the magic of this novel. It does nothing to capture the depth of emotion and the sheer joy of reading it, nor does it capture the heart. There’s simply no way that a summary of events in the novel will capture that. This is a novel that isn’t merely read; you experience every moment and live right along with Martha as she learns who she is and what matters most.
For me, reading this novel felt like travelling back in time. The Finding of Martha Lost has a luminescent quality to its story and its pages. It was almost as if I were flipping through an old photo album, so real was Martha Lost.
I love the characters that people this novel in surprising ways. Elizabeth and George Harris, always dressed as a Roman solider. There’s William who my heart just went out to and then there’s Martha, lovely Martha with her love of books, that I just wanted to reach into the pages and hug so I could offer some sort of comfort. The characters that people this novel are that real, that lifelike.
The true prowess of Wallace’s writing lies in the fact that she deals with some terrible life issues, yet the novel still feels magical. It deals with religious mania, abandonment, having a baby out of wedlock, the war and how it affected the lives of everyone around them and secrets that are too painful to share. Wallace manages to cover all this and more and still the novel reads like a wonderful fairy tale for adults that does what all good fairy tales do: It teaches us something about ourselves along the way and helps us believe in magic once again.
I will miss Martha, Elizabeth, William and George Harris with all my heart. Thankfully, they will be waiting for me when I once again pick up The Finding of Martha Lost and let myself be transported back in time.