Sophie Ratcliffe is a self-confessed lover of small thingsby Zoe Apostolides / April 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
This blend of memoir, biography and criticism begins in September 1988, when the teenaged author is “waiting for my father to die.” The combination of fondness and pity Ratcliffe exhibits for her former self—dressed “for a day of corpse-viewing” in “a three-quarter-length navy sweatshirt with an ersatz-Victorian plasticised picture of a floral bouquet on it”—sets the tone for a work that spans many years and many train journeys.
Some of these are taken by Ratcliffe herself, at different stages of her life; others by Tolstoy, a reimagined Anna Karenina and the pioneering Victorian journalist Kate Field. It’s a gentle, purposefully meandering meditation on marriage, literature, a love affair, motherhood and grief.
On trips between Ferriby and Brough, Leamington and Banbury, she reads or tries to catch a glimpse of station names flashing past: “The letters evaporate, replaced by lines of turbines, receding into the distance… One has got stuck mid-cycle. Its paddles seem to droop against the sky. Perhaps it can’t go forwards without turning back.”
A self-proclaimed “lover of small things —and of clutter,” it is apparently insignificant possessions that most fascinate Ratcliffe, who teaches English at Oxford. Her students’ books are peppered with “Post-it notes like stiff fluorescent tongues,” while an “atmosphere” during a quiet domestic dispute “gets everywhere, like glitter.”
It is loss, both personal and practical, that brings these disparate elements together. Part of Ratcliffe’s research leads her to the classified sections of The Times in 1875, “a catalogue of despondencies, absent-mindedness, ache,” where “dogs, opera glasses and pencil cases” jostle for space with a missing balloon and each mislaid item “feels like a novel in miniature.”
Ultimately, it’s the act of documenting these otherwise “lost” moments that brings some catharsis.
The Lost Properties of Love: An Exhibition of Myself by Sophie Ratcliffe is published by William Collins (£16.99)