three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
By: 
Sheridan Hay
user_rating: 
0

A-The Secret of Lost ThingsAfter 18-year-old Rosemary’s mother dies, she packs up her things and leaves her native Tasmania for New York. Finding a job in the secondhand Arcade Bookshop (modeled after Strand Bookstore), she meets a cast of eccentrics: George Pike, the quirky owner; Walter Geist, his albino assistant; the emotionally distant Oscar Jarno, for whom Rosemary falls; and the transsexual cashier, Pearl. When a mysterious letter arrives that suggests the existence of a long-lost manuscript by Herman Melville, Walter enlists Rosemary’s aid in seeking—and obtaining—the valuable Isle of the Cross. As the stakes rise, Rosemary finds herself trapped in the middle of a complex scheme.
Doubleday. 368 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 038551848X

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Sheridan Hay’s debut novel, The Secret of Lost Things, is altogether enchanting, not least by virtue of its exquisitely lyrical prose. … There is a fairy-tale quality to [the novel]." Frank Wilson

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Along with the theme of abandonment that permeates The Secret of Lost Things is the theme of obsession—that unhealthy lust for the desired object that is the dark underside of the collector. There are, in fact, almost no characters in Hay’s novel who could be considered normal or ordinary, but somehow all this collective weirdness works; it’s a memorable debut." Melinda Bargreen

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Secret of Lost Things, the debut novel by Sheridan Hay that revolves around a bookstore, conjures such a universe, one that any reader would be glad to inhabit and sorry to see end. … Hay’s characters and places, from a hat shop in Tasmania to the overstuffed bookstore in New York that calls to mind the Strand, are finely and fully rendered." Carol Deptolla

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Secret of Lost Things is mildly self-indulgent, as most novels set around books and bookshops tend to be. … Those who love to read about books will enjoy Hay’s delicate style, laced as it is with literary parallels and lightly spiced with intrigue." Richard J. Ring

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"Sadly, though, the great potential characters in this story go nowhere. … And it’s for this reason The Secret of Lost Things as a whole does not equal its too-separate parts: the great story and the appealing narrator are ill matched." David Haglund

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"The internal and external loathsomeness of nearly every main character—in what is, at its heart, a story about bartering for love—is far from the book’s least tolerable aspect. … What’s most insufficient about The Secret of Lost Things is that, as its title suggests, the tale only comes alive when it concerns itself with books as things, as objects for sale." Donna Rifkind

Critical Summary

The Secret of Lost Things is many things at once: a mystery, a coming-of-age novel, and an inquiry into literary obsession. While critics noted that the novel aspires to such heights as A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Martha Cooley’s The Archivist, they generally agreed it reaches neither in scope or depth. Still, the characters, if sometimes caricatured, are vivid (except for Melville, whom we see only in letters); 1970s New York comes alive in its grit and anonymity; and the intriguing plot kept most reviewers on their toes. In sum, better literature about literary quests exists, but The Secret of Lost Things will please diehard fans of the popular bookstore genre.

Cited by the Critics

The Archivist | Martha Cooley (1998): Matthias Lane is an archivist at a top-tier East Coast university. Among the documents he cares for are the letters from T. S. Eliot to Emily Hale. Lane’s wife, a poet, committed suicide 20 years earlier—the same year that Eliot died. Now a young scholar and poet, Roberta Spire, comes to Lane asking for permission to look over the sealed letters. Both of them have dark secrets from their pasts that are soon revealed.