Book Review: The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe

Book Review: The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe

Review by Paul Hunter

Sophie Ratcliffe is a fortysomething Oxford professor of English, who is also a writer and critic.

This book is an engaging read and relatively short, although in keeping with the author’s background ends with 40 pages of quotations, further reading and acknowledgements.

Loosely it’s a memoir of some parts of Ratcliffe’s life, especially the loss of her father when she was 13. She has described it as an account of her life although in many ways it reads like a novel.

The chapters follow railway journeys, with the stations forming the titles. It certainly is not for trainspotters, but is framed by an extended metaphorical journey from Hull to Oxford with detours and small moments in Moscow, London, and New York spanning multiple decades.

Ratcliffe frequently refers to two literary characters: one real from the nineteenth century – Kate Field who was Trollope’s muse; and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. She journeys through her life, intertwining these characters into her experiences in a nuanced way, in and out of reality. Her skill as a writer shows through, as this device could seem too clever by half if not carried out thoughtfully.

There is an extended piece about handbags which may be helpful for male readers who struggle with the fascination these objects hold for many women. The same readers may have their own obsessions with cricket, military memorabilia or classic cars.

It is a compelling read and although the story does move backwards and forwards and indeed back in history at times, you always want to continue reading the next chapter and you will finish the book too soon.

The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe is published by William Collins