I’ve not read anything by Laura Beatty before but I found Lost Property’s synopsis intriguing. A woman finds herself in a state of despair at her country’s apparent indifference to the suffering and poverty on its streets and decides she must find a way to understand how such a state has come about. This witty yet profound novel of ideas takes us across Europe in a second hand camper van on a road trip through history, following our unnamed narrator’s quest for meaning.
Our narrator is a writer living in London with her partner who organises tours to Greece. After an exchange with the beggar who’s set herself up close to our narrator’s flat, complete with a banner labelled ‘BritAnnia’, our narrator finds herself in a dark place. What has become of her country which goes about its business, turning away from people sleeping on the streets? She and her partner pack up their belongings and take off for France. Rupert is a pragmatist, happy to go along with his partner’s quest while accepting the state of the world she finds so troubling. As our narrator explores European nations’ intertwined histories on her laptop, their journey takes them through France, on to Italy then into Slovenia and the Balkans until they reach Greece and come face to face with the refugee crisis. They volunteer in a camp on the island of Chios where our narrator finally lets go of the fear that has gripped her. Along the way, they encounter a multitude of historical, literary and mythological characters, from Eustace II who fought alongside William the Conqueror to Jean of Arc, from Christine de Pizan to Hermes. By the end of this odyssey, our narrator has found a degree of peace and understanding about what nationhood means to her.
That rather trite synopsis is a feeble attempt to encapsulate this ambitious novel. Beatty pokes gentle fun at Eustace who takes up residence in the campervan and interjects cynical smart remarks into our narrator’s conversation with Rupert, making her device palatable for those of us who might feel a wee bit uneasy with it. Our narrator’s idealism is neatly counterbalanced by Rupert’s pragmatism, allowing Beatty to explore both sides of the argument. Her writing is often striking, her historical vignettes illuminating and vivid, although occasionally delivered with a little too much detail for me. Inevitably, given that the search for the meaning of nationhood is at its heart, I couldn’t help reading Lost Property as a Brexit novel although its scope is far wider than that. It’s not an easy read – it’s hasn’t been easy to write about and I fear I haven’t done it justice – but it’s a richly rewarding one, and it’ll make you think.