Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Well what can be said? What can be said about a book that makes you want to reach in and scoop up the characters and cuddle them and tell them everything is going to be alright in a few pages, they just need to hold on a little bit longer? What can be said about a book that has you longing for a conclusion that you are afraid is never going to come? What can be said about a book that makes you emotional and maternal and weepy and a little bit shaky? What can be said?!

I am tearing up a little bit just remembering the conclusion of this marvellous, unputdownable read. I was sitting on the train and staring out of the window, blinking back my over emotional delicate lady tears and thinking why did it take me so long to discover this remarkable book? I’ve known about it for ages and ages and I have heard great things about it from many people whose opinions I trust. What prevented me from reading it was that I had read a bit of The Victorian Chaise Longue, thought it was alright but it didn’t grip me, and then decided that all her books were going to be like that so I wouldn’t bother with her others unless someone bought me a copy. What a bad judgement I made! I have learned my lesson well and truly, because Marghanita Laski just rocketed up my favourite authors list and The Village is going to be my next read after a couple of others that I am supposed to be reading first (yes, yes, one of them is The Children’s Book, I said I’d read it and I will…next week…).

So I have Jane over at FleurFisher Reads to thank for picking me as the winner of her Persephone Week Prize Draw and sending me Little Boy Lost as my prize (picture shows the lovely card she sent too), because if she hadn’t have done so, I probably wouldn’t have read it for years and what a world of emotional torment I would have been missing out on if I had have waited that long! I gasp at the thought!

I’m sure you all know the basic plot of this but I’ll rehash it anyway just in case. Hilary is an English intellectual, battered emotionally by the fallout of World War II; his beautiful and much beloved Polish wife, Lisa, was killed by the Gestapo in Paris and his son, whom he only saw briefly just after he was born, is missing, lost somewhere in France. Hilary is afraid of emotion and of love; he doesn’t want to give anything of himself to anyone, or dwell on the past, because he doesn’t want to risk being hurt again. This makes him come across as cold and unfeeling, but he’s not, not at all; he has just built barriers around his heart to protect himself from feeling the pain of losing someone he loves all over again. This would be enough to make most women’s hands go to their hearts and sigh but…there is yet more to come. On Christmas Day after the war has ended, a mysterious Frenchman by the name of Pierre comes to Hilary’s door and asks to speak to him privately. He has news of where his son might be, and is willing to help him find the little boy he only saw once, at a few days old, and who will now be five.

Hilary’s last letter from Lisa contained a promise from her that she would make sure their little boy John was safe; for her sake, she says, Hilary must do everything he can to find their son again and bring him home. As much as Hilary is afraid of loving, and of any intrusion into his now safely ordered life, he agrees to go with Pierre to track down the boy that could be his son, out of love for his wife.

The essential dilemma for Hilary is that he has no idea whether this boy is his son or not. He doesn’t have a photograph of him, only saw him when he was a newborn, red, crying little thing and has no idea of how his wife spoke to him or played with him. There are no points of reference he can use to identify the child unless he sees a clear resemblance either to himself or Lisa, and it is this anguish of not knowing, and not wanting to take the wrong child, but at the same time feeling himself falling in love with this gorgeous little imp of a boy who tugs at his coat and wants to see the trains (oh, I am getting teary again just thinking of the little thing!) and who shows him his broken and battered toys as if they were the finest jewels in the world, that makes this novel so heartrending.

Hilary stays in the little town where the boy lives in an orphanage for a week, and he visits him every day with a view to making a decision about whether he thinks he is his son or not by the end of that week. Hilary wavers, he struggles, he fights against the new feelings of love he desperately doesn’t want to feel again, or allow to influence his decision. He is frightened of having his life turned upside down, frightened of making the wrong decision, frightened of abandoning this little boy, but also frightened of abandoning his real son if he takes this child without being certain and stops the search for his own boy, who might still be out there somewhere. Hilary’s determination to be quite clinical and factual and make the ‘right’ decision without getting emotionally involved becomes more and more difficult as he finds the little Jean working his way into his heart. As his mind becomes more and more confused he allows himself to be infatuated by a local woman, but as his lustful desire for her that has nothing to do with love becomes more and more pronounced, Hilary starts to realise that, after all, his life is empty, and love might be just the thing he needs.

A vulnerable man, afraid of his emotions! A lonely and abandoned little boy, desperate to be loved! How much more can Marghanita Laski tug on a woman’s heartstrings?! I felt like I had well and truly been through the wringer after reading Little Boy Lost, but every tear was worth it; this is a stunningly beautiful portrait of post war Europe, of the damage loss can do to a heart, and of the redeeming power of love that we all have within us. The final sentence is one of, if not the most, powerful and beautiful and wonderful I have ever read, and if you haven’t read Little Boy Lost, you need to get hold of it NOW and read it instantly. It is perfect.