Publication: 12 July 2018 from Michael Joseph
Lost letters have only one hope for survival . . .
Inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, William Woolf is one of thirty letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries. Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers.
When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’ his work takes on new meaning.
Written by a woman to a soulmate she hasn’t met yet, the missives stir William in ways he didn’t know were possible. Soon he begins to wonder: Could William be her great love?
William must follow the clues in Winter’s letters to solve his most important mystery yet: the human heart.
This is a novel set in the 1980’s when hand written letters were perhaps less of a novelty than they are now. I must confess though that sometimes I felt drawn much further back into time than that, perhaps because our protagonist feels so very formal and old fashioned; certainly quite straight-laced.
In the depths of Shoreditch, William Woolfe works in the Dead Letters Dept, a place where a handful of staff try to link letters without sufficiency of address to the people they were meant for. Sadly, no such place could possibly exist; not today, anyway. Can you imagine working in a Post Office place of employment where an employee could decide to take off for the afternoon in order to deliver by hand a letter destined for 200+ miles away? Still, it is a lovely idea and I have some sympathy for Helen Cullen’s view of how the world might be if there was more kindness in it.
William, our letter detective, loves his job and has a real feeling for it. He would be happy but for the knowledge that with every passing day his wife, Clare seems to be a bit more distant. While William is broadly happy with his lot, Clare is struggling to reconcile what she wants and needs from her marriage and what William can give her. For different reasons, they are each a disappointment to the other.
Once so wholly in love, now they are like distant flatmates. Neither likes the situation, neither knows quite how to change it.
In the midst of this central storyline we have a number of heart-warming stories about lost items and their reconciliation with their owners or those who they were destined for, and these stories add lightness to the book.
William becomes obsessed with a set of letters discovers from a lady who calls herself ‘Winter’. Winter is writing beautiful letters to her unnamed, as yet unfound, one true love. Stirred by and drawn to her passion and enthusiasm for life, William sets out to track Winter down. But in doing so, will this cause him to leave Clare behind for ever?
The Lost Letters is a story of love, loss, longing and romantic idealism. It is slow paced and with lovely prose, though a little over written in places.
Verdict: I enjoyed it and I loved the setting and the world that Helen Cullen creates. An admirable debut.
About Helen Cullen
Helen Cullen is an Irish writer living in London.
She worked at RTE (Ireland’s national broadcaster) for seven years before moving to London in 2010. In the UK, Helen established a career as an events and engagement specialist before joining the Google UK marketing team in 2015.
Her debut novel, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ is published today.
The first draft of this novel was written while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing programme under the mentorship of Michèle Roberts. Helen holds an M.A. Theatre Studies from UCD and is currently completing an M.A. English Literature at Brunel University.
Helen is now writing full-time and working on her second novel.
Follow Helen on Twitter @wordsofhelen