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The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

This is a novel that defied my expectations, in a surprising way. The plot follows William who has put aside his ambitions to become a writer after starting work in a Royal Mail lost letters depot. Here mail that cant be delivered comes for one final chance at finding a home. From damaged envelopes, incorrect addressees and illegible handwriting they have to do all they can, but the ones that have kept William intrigued are the ones he has termed the supernatural ones. These are the letters addressed to God, mythical figures, the deceased – the tooth fairy even. He’s fascinated, so much so that he is collating his favourites for a book that he wants to publish. Then one day he starts getting beautifully written letters from a mystery woman to her one true love.

So far, so generic fiction that you find in a multi buy in any supermarket – and to be fair this reviewer only picked this title up because of the idea of the lost letters department.

However, this book’s focus is primarily on the character and emotions of William and his relationship with his wife Clare. Chapters alternate between them, and the book provides a full picture of their relationship from meeting to where they are now, which is on the brink of separation. The dialogue both internal and between characters is well realised and believable, and the plot of him falling in love with the mystery letter writer is not the whimsical almost supernatural love story you would expect, but more of a framing device to allow William to understand, questions and test the bond he has with Clare.

Part of this book is set in Ireland, and you can definitely tell the author comes from there as it’s very effectively portrayed and the people there come alive very deftly.

Along the way there are small vignettes about the letters telling some interested and affecting stories of the writers, and taken as a whole this was an emotional, interesting debut, marking Helen Cullen as a talent to be followed for the future.