‘Keep a copy in your guest room and you’ll never see your guests’

Clare Flynn – 5 stars

I was given an advance copy of Not Quite Lost to review. I’m a slow reader and have a lot of books in my pile so was a bit wary it might take me until publication day to finish it – but as soon as I started I couldn’t put it down.

The beauty of Not Quite Lost is Roz Morris’s ability to find fascination in the mundane as well as the quirky. As I was reading it, I found myself nodding – we’ve all had similar experiences but few of us have troubled to chronicle them and to bring them back to life on the page. Like the pushy shopkeeper pursuing Roz out of the shop into the street, still set on a sale. Or the lovestruck young man who walks alongside her and her horse and tells her he is about to make an unannounced visit to a girl he has met online having travelled across the country to do so.

Some of the places were familiar – I have driven countless times down the wonderful A303 and noticed what Morris has called Pig-Henge, a series of pig sties arranged in circles, and have witnessed the giant cooling towers of West Burton power station on many visits to friends in Nottinghamshire, but Roz Morris has managed to find something magical in these things. I have also experienced earthquakes in Italy – not one but two. I worked through the first – completely oblivious to the tremors and wondering why my secretary was yelling like a mad woman. The second happened when I was at a family celebration in a hotel on Lake Iseo. Everyone was talking about the earthquake over breakfast – beds moving across floors, windows rattling and I had slept through it all. Unlike me, Morris and friends are very much aware of the one they experience in Vicenza, talking about it every evening of their holiday, in a kind of ‘what I was doing when JFK died’ sort of way. “Like a campfire story or an epic told in a Saxon mead hall, to grapple with the fact that we had escaped much worse.”

This book is a great advert for the properties of The Landmark Trust – a collection of weird and wonderful follies and odd buildings – Morris and husband have clearly made it their life’s mission to stay in all of them. I ended up scrolling the pages of the Landmark Trust website to find an interesting and isolated place to run away to. I can however confirm I will not want to try out Roz’s ten rapidly repeated trips up the 150 stairs of Beckford’s Tower as an exercise regime.

Probably one of the reasons I loved the book is that I share the author’s obsession with old abandoned buildings. Give me a ruin or an empty abandoned house and I want to get inside it. If I can’t manage that, I do so vicariously, googling away trying to find out its past and its secrets. I was so glad to discover on reading this book that someone else is similarly bonkers! I confess that before I’d finished the first chapter I had googled and found Edge Croft, Morris’s former family home – the knowledge that it had been demolished being enough to make me want to see how it was before the bulldozers struck.

Morris combines the beautiful prose of her novels with a wry self-deprecating humour and an ability to create a vivid image on the page. I loved her description of the cryonic plant near Pevensey (just a few miles from me but I won’t be rushing to visit!) as “a bit like a home-brew kit but with bodies”. Anyone who manages to make interesting jammed car windows, the braking systems of automatic cars, and country walks that lead to nowhere (not to mention staircases that do the same), has to be a bloody good writer. There is an obvious temptation to compare the book to Bill Bryson’s – the beautiful cover design virtually mandates that. There is a similarity with early BB but I much prefer Roz to the curmudgeonly moaner that Bryson has now become. Her humour is always gentle and directed as much at herself as at the weird and wonderful people she meets along the way.

This book would make a perfect gift – keep a copy in your guest room and you’ll never see your guests as they will be either lost in it – or inspired by it to go out exploring to find wonders in the world all around them.

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