"The Secret Of Lost Things"

The Secret Of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

Rosemary Savage is 18 years old when her mother dies and she leaves her home in Tasmania for a new beginning in New York City. When she arrives it's late at night, pouring rain, and the residential hotel where she has booked a room has gone out of business. Her feelings are summed up as: "I was barely eighteen years old, absent Mother and country, soaking wet, and so bereft that I sagged inside my damp clothes, shrunken and childlike." That pretty much sets the tone for this whole, rather dreary tale.

Rosemary finds a job at an old bookshop called the Arcade, where used books are crammed onto shelves and lay about the store in huge stacks, and where collectors frequent the rare book room in search of treasures. Staffing the store is a cast of misfits as eccentric as you'll find anywhere. There is George Pike, the owner who sits at his desk all day every day putting prices on books and being as miserable as humanly possible. The store manager is Walter Geist, an albino whose emotional fragility leads to a creepy, and eventually gross, obsession with Rosemary. The kindly-seeming ruler of the Rare Book Room is Mr. Mitchell who, sadly, also turns out to be a disappointment. Oscar runs the non-fiction section and is the one Rosemary finds herself attracted to. Oscar, however, is just as odd as everybody else and isn't interested in personal relationships. Rosemary's only real friend at the bookshop is Pearl, the warm, caring cashier who is actually a man awaiting gender change surgery.

The plot is slow getting started but is potentially interesting. It concerns a "lost" book of Herman Melville's that Oscar and Walter are working against each other to find, both thinking they have Rosemary's undivided loyalty, while she just seems confused by the whole situation and not very sure of what she's doing. The plot never gets big enough to support all the bizarre characters, and the tone of sadness that permeates the whole thing was tiresome by the end of the story.
I can't say I enjoyed this novel, even though it has a lot of things going for it: a bookshop setting, a plot about a "lost" book, some weird smart people (I like weird smart people), and New York City. Unfortunately all those things didn't add up to a great book for me. I didn't find the characters appealing and I thought the plot was weak. I loved the Arcade bookshop setting, but that wasn't enough. I can't decide if I'd give it a 5 or a 6 out of 10, so 5.5 it is.  


Ann Summerville said...

What a shame. It sounds like a great setting for a story.

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