Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Secret of Lost Things - Book Review

The Secret of Lost Things
by Sheridan Hay
Doubleday 2006

I have been wanting to read this book for quite some time so I reserved it at the library and have been finally able to read it. This novel is as much a story about the love of books as it is about one girl's coming of age.

Rosemary leaves Tasmania (in Australia) and moves to New York city after her mother dies, and starts working in the Arcade, a second hand bookshop. There is NO MENTION made of her immigration status whatsoever. One cannot just move to a new country and work. I should know.

One must be educated and skilled to qualify for either immigrate or a work permit. Rosemary has no skills so she would not qualify to immigrate, nor would she qualify for a work permit.

How convenient that fiction authors dont have to mention embarrassing details like this. To someone like me who is well versed in immigration details, it is a GLARING mistake.

I had no idea that the main character Rosemary, was so sheltered and naive. Was I really like that when I was 18? Well, yes, I was like that. I had crushes on the local boys. But I certainly knew enough to never try to kiss them, although I did ask one fellow that I had a crush on, to my High School prom.

Rosemary's naivety did annoy me during this novel, but not so much that I could not continue reading to see what happened in the shop.

Rosemary has a crush on Oscar Jarno who is in charge of the Non Fiction section of the book shop. Oscar is gay and prefers men. Rosemary knows this intellectually but still thinks she can get Oscar to love her as well. When she and Oscar have a meal together at a diner, she kisses him, and he rejects her. Thats when her eyes are opened and she stops being naive.

At the same time the Albino Walter Geist, who works in the basement checking all the books that come in from sales and the public and who pays the sellers, has a crush on Rosemary because Rosemary is the only person who will even talk to Geist.

Robert Mitchell on the 4th Floor handles the rare books and is supposed to be told about any rare books that come in.

Arthur looks after the art and photography sections of the bookshop. He loves looking at photos of nudes. He calls them art and that is why he can look at them. That is not all he does when he looks at these photos.

Jack and Bruno are the bouncers - they throw the thieves out. They also arrange and rearrange the paperback books at the front of the shop.

Pearl handles the cash register. She is taking hormones to undergo a sex change from male to female.

And George Pike is the manager of the entire shop.He has his little stand a few steps above the floor, where he too prices the more valuable books and oversees the shop floor and everyone on it.

The Lost Things referred to in the title is a novel supposedly written by Herman Melville (Moby Dick) in 1852. The question is - was the novel ever published? The publishers warehouse burnt down in 1853. The story of the novel is mentioned in several letters by Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne (Fanshawe) in 1852. The main character was referred to as Agatha.

Geist is an albino, and as such, he is legally blind. He has Rosemary read him a letter about a lost novel. The writer of this letter is offering the manuscript to be sold through the bookship for commission. Rosemary tells Oscar about the letter and together Rosemary and Oscar spend time at the library doing some research. Rosemary is assigned to read the book of letters written by Melville to Hawthorne. She finds the first mentions in the letters, of the story about Agatha.

Geist too is trying to find out more about this lost novel. He has colleagues on whom he can call. One of them is Samuel Metcalfe - the librarian to James Peabody - one of the most well known book collectors and richest men in the USA.

Things come to a head in the last week of the year (between Xmas and New Years) when Geist is given a manuscript he claims is the lost story of Agatha (now called the Isle of the Cross). He steals money from the shop to pay for the manuscript. Geist wants to give the manuscript to Rosemary. When Oscar lays his hands on the manuscript and opens it, it is obviously a fake, and the pages are scattered acros the floor. In a struggle between Geist and Oscar, one man dies.

Some weeks later Rosemary leaves the shop and takes up a new job as an editing intern with a publishing company.

I read this book for the Bibliophilic Challenge.

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