Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review: The Secret of Lost Things

Summary: Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city. -- random house

THE SECRET OF LOST THINGS by Sheridan Hay is a truly unique book. I can't really say that I've ever read a book quite like this one, and I think that's what made this book so special (in a good way.) I guess I could say that the story was a coming-of-age tale about a young woman who finds herself in New York City after the death of her mother. But that description doesn't really seem to do it justice. It was so much deeper than that!

I don't even know where to begin talking about the cast of characters in this book. I found that most of the characters that worked in the bookstore were extremely eccentric and flat out weird. Even though I didn't really like many of the bookstore employees, their oddities did provide some opportunities for humor. It was very entertaining the see the jealousy and pettiness of the characters once they realized that there was a letter claiming a "lost" manuscript by Herman Melville.

I did like Rosemary quite a bit, and I wanted her to find happiness; but I found myself getting frustrated with her involvement/infatuation with a co-worker. Having said that, I really enjoyed the scenes at her apartment with her new friends -- she had never had real female relationships growing up. I also loved watching Rosemary find herself and become an independent woman by the end of the book.

There were many references to Herman Melville in this book, and I was a little worried that I wouldn't understand them because I am not very familiar with any of Melville's books -- of course, I've heard of that little book MOBY DICK but I haven't actually read it. I am happy to say that my lack of knowledge didn't affect my understanding of the book at all. The author did a terrific job of using actual letters that Melville wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne to explain the concept of the "lost" book. In addition, she wove many literary references (including Shakespeare) throughout the entire book -- it's pretty safe to say that I didn't catch most of them, but I still have an appreciation of what she did!

I actually really enjoyed reading this book. I thought the idea of the plot was brilliant, and I thought Ms. Hay did a wonderful job with writing the book. Of course, I'm sure that I was drawn to the book in part because much of it took place in a bookstore. But I also loved how the book ended -- I thought it was just perfect. I found myself reading that last 120 pages straight through just to find out what happened. This book had a little bit of everything in it -- fairytale, mystery, intrigue, romance, humor, and even a few surprises.

THE SECRET OF LOST THINGS would make a very interesting book club selection. I promise that there would be a lot to talk about, but there are also discussion questions to help get the conversation jump-started. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Hay's first novel, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

Also reviewed at:
Passion for the Page


Susan said...

I just bought this book. Sounds like it will be an interesting read. Thanks for the review.

alisonwonderland said...

i read Kristi's review a while back - so i wasn't planning to put this one on my to-read list. but your review is much more positive - so maybe ...