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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Secret of Lost Things

Sheridan Hay’s debut novel weighs in at over 350 pages and gives her ample opportunity to explore several different genres. She has written a combination coming-of-age novel, literary mystery, and sexual awakening novel (which I classify here as a subgenre of the more general coming-of-age novel). It is an ambitious first novel, to say the least, one in which Hay displays keen writing skills and, at times, striking observations about the human condition. That said, the novel does suffer a bit from her use of stereotypical characters (in particular, the transsexual character and the albino character) and a failure to keep the reader entirely engaged in the literary mystery at the heart of her story. Still, The Secret of Lost Things will definitely appeal to avid readers and book lovers, especially those who enjoy novels set in a bookstore environment.

Rosemary Savage’s life in remote Tasmania did little to prepare her for life in New York City but that is exactly where she found herself not too many weeks after her mother died. Rosemary, who never met her father, had practically been raised in the small hat shop from which her mother eked out a living for the two of them. When her mother’s closest friend, a bookshop owner who felt that Rosemary needed a fresh start and some adventure in her life, gifted her with a ticket to New York, Rosemary left Tasmania for good and almost by accident found herself working at the Arcade, a huge bookstore that specialized in used and rare books and just happened to be near her first home in the city.

Rosemary’s previous life left her unprepared for the eccentric crew populating the Arcade, among them, Pearl, a transsexual preparing for the operation that will physically transform her into the woman she knows herself to be; Oscar, the good-looking, but emotionally-stunted, clerk with whom Rosemary falls in love; Mr. Pike, the strange owner of the store who stands on his little platform in the center of the store all day pricing used volumes for the shelves and his rare book room; Lillian, a refugee from Argentina whose only son has become one of that country’s “disappeared”; and Mr. Geist, an albino who is going blind and who searches for a way to win Rosemary for himself. That kind of crew was certain to provide Rosemary with an education, one in which she learned as much about life as she did the book business.

In addition to what she learned from her co-workers, Rosemary found herself fascinated by the book collectors who visited the shop on an almost daily basis and, as she watched them in action, she realized how much they, too, were teaching her about the good and the bad of human nature. But everything suddenly changed when Mr. Geist received a letter offering to sell him the original manuscript of a Herman Melville novel, one long thought to have been lost in a fire, and he managed to involve Rosemary in his scheme to acquire and sell the book for his own profit.

The rather dramatic ending of The Secret of Lost Things, is not completely satisfying because of its somewhat predictable nature but this is impressive enough a first novel that good things can be expected from Sheridan Hay in the future.

Rated at: 3.5

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