REVIEW: The Lost Properties of Love, Sophie Ratcliffe

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

What if you could tell the truth about who you are, without risking losing the one you love? This is a book about love affairs and why we choose to have them; a book for anyone who has ever loved and wondered what it is all about. This is a book about the things we hide from other people. Love affairs, grief, domestic strife and the mess at the bottom of your handbag. Part memoir, part imagined history, in The Lost Properties of Love, Sophie Ratcliffe combines her own experience of childhood bereavement, a past lover, the reality about motherhood and marriage, with undiscovered stories about Tolstoy and trains, handbags and honeymoons to muse on the messiness of everyday life. An extended train journey frames the action – and the author turns not to self-help manuals but to the fictions that have shaped our emotional and romantic landscape. Readers will find themselves propelled into Anna Karenina’s world of steam, commuting down the Northern Line, and checking out a New York El-train with Anthony Trollope’s forgotten muse, Kate Field. As scenes in her own life collide with the stories of real and imaginary heroines, The Lost Properties of Love asks how we might find new ways of thinking about love and intimacy in the twenty-first century.

I think that the problem with books like this is that, whether or not a reader likes them is ultimately decided by how much they take a shine to their author. And unfortunately, I really didn’t gel with Sophie Ratcliffe.
I’m sorry! Don’t hate me. I am sure she is lovely, but there is something about her in the words of this novel that, despite the bloody amazing writing and the oodles of wondrous literary criticism, makes me not like her. And honestly, I think that’s because of how she treated her husband and children.
Within a few pages of reading, it is immediately clear why she chose Anna Karenina to focus much of this book on - the Russian classic that charts the most iconic affair in the history of literature - because, throughout Lost Properties of Love, Sophie Ratcliffe juxtaposes the novel with her own memories of an affair she once had with a much older man, whilst the two of them were both already in relationships.
Which is, you know, all well and good (you do you and all that), but by concentrating all of her thoughts and attentions on this single figure and experience in her life, it makes all of the rest of it seem hollow. The man is dying, the affair was decades ago, she has led so much life since then and yet, her "current life" does not even warrant more than a passing mention.
Maybe this was Sophie Ratcliffe’s intention: to make everything feel cold except for this man, and if it was, congratulations to her, but I do not know how I feel about that.
Love is love, and love is wonderful, but does one single experience of it mean that she has never loved any other person, not even her husband? That her love for this other man eclipses it? If so, then why on earth did she marry him?
Honestly I wish I knew, if only for the simple fact that I think I would have really liked liking this book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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