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The Secret of Lost Things: 03/25/09
Sometimes a book will just click with a reader. Everything (or almost everything) will fall into place and just be a shared experience between the author, the fictional characters and the reader. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay was one of those books for me.
Rosemary born on Anzac Day and therefore named for the herb often worn on lapels in Australia. Until her eighteenth birthday her home is her mother's hat shop in Tasmania. When her mother dies she is sent by a bookseller friend to New York with her mother's ashes in a box of Huon pine, one of the most pungent pine scents I have ever smelled; it seems to permeate the entire island.
In that first chapter I was drawn back to my own experience as an exchange student in Tasmania at the age of 17. I can picture the very first place I visited on my own, a used book shop in Ulverstone to buy Nova by Samuel R. Delany for $5.20. I was just as naive and confused by Tasmanian culture (which is a blend of mainland Australian and British ex-pat cultures) as Rosemary is in New York. I can remember being overwhelmed by homesickness at the aroma of the Huon pines (which aren't really pines but smell enough like them to confuse a jet-lagged nose) growing at the Don college.
Then there is Rosemary's time in New York where she works at a place called The Arcade (and apparently inspired by the author's time working at the Strand). Although I haven't worked in a bookstore (would love to someday) I have worked in a university library and in my father's antique shop both which attract people similar to the characters in The Secret of Lost Things.
The final point where I clicked with Rosemary was with her involvement in the search for Melville's lost novel, Isle of the Cross (1853). While I'm no Melville scholar, I am a bit of a fan of his and Hawthorne's books and was vaguely aware of their odd friendship.
Had all those different pieces in my life not been in place I probably would have been more troubled by the novel's flaws. The wacky characters are sometimes too two-dimensional, Rosemary stays naive too long, her obsession with Oscar is just as creepy as Geist's obsession with her is. Yes, those flaws are there but the connection I felt with the book was so strong I don't care about any of them. For a completely different take on the novel and a better look at the book's flaws, please see the review at The Keeping it Real Book Club (listed below).
Comment #1: Thursday, March, 26, 2009 at 08:45:13
Just yesterday I requested the audio book of this from my library. I'm so glad to hear that you thought so highly of it - now I REALLY can't wait to start listening!
Comment #2: Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 22:53:31
That's a happy coincidence. I hope you enjoy the book. I think you will.
Comment #3: Sunday, March, 29, 2009 at 11:55:49
I listened to this a year or so ago and remember liking it even though my Ipod was acting up. The one scene between Rosemary and Geist alone in his office was pretty creepy to me. I would definitely read another book by this author.
Comment #4: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 20:08:39
Creepy is an understatement for the scene with Rosemary and Geist. Despite that I enjoyed the book.
Comment #5: Wednesday, June, 3, 2009 at 08:43:23
Sounds like an interesting book! It's too bad there are flaws in the characterization, but I'm glad it spoke to you all the same.
As a side note, I'd too love to work in a used bookstore -- and I've heard about the STRAND. It's huge!
Comment #6: Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 18:56:32
The flaws such as they were didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the book. I still tore through it and stayed up late to finish it. I gave it a five out of five stars at GoodReads too.