Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Secret of Lost Things: Review

The Secret of Lost Things: A Novel by Sheridan Hay: Coming to New York from Tasmania at the age of eighteen, Rosemary takes a job at a used and rare bookstore run by the gruff Mr. Pike and his idiosyncratic staff and becomes caught up in the search for a long-lost Melville manuscript. She meets Oscar, who is in charge of non-fiction and who seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of anything and everything; Arthur, who naturally manages the art section and seems to spend more time looking at the merchandise rather than selling it; Pearl, the loving, motherly transsexual who runs the cash register and becomes one of Rosemary's truest friends; and Walter, the store manager and an albino who is a lonely figure even in the Arcade. When Walter's eyesight begins to fade, Rosemary becomes his assistant and it is then that she first reads about the missing manuscript. Soon she is involved in a tricky game--trying to get more information from Walter while trying to please Oscar.

This is another on the fence book for me. The book's synopsis reads like Hay was trying to write a literary mystery. Was there a missing Melville manuscript? Will they find it? Who has it? A literary mystery set in a used bookstore should have been right up my alley. The mystery portion is a bit of a disappointment. Not nearly as suspenseful and interesting as it might have been (and should have been to meet literary mystery standards). However, as a coming of age novel; as a novel of self-discovery; as a novel about loss and grief and remorse; Hay has done a pretty darn good job. She manages to tie the themes ascribed to Melville's missing book, The Isle of the Cross, to themes that run through Rosemary's life--as well as the lives of many of the inhabitants of The Arcade and Rosemary's first landlady and first friend, Lillian. The writing is at times exquisite and fully brings out the nuances of emotion. I have read an Advanced Reading Copy edition of the book and can only hope that some of the portions that did not flow as well and some of the obvious mistakes and typos were fixed before final publication. Three stars out of five.

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