I cannot honestly justify my fondness for The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. The plot meanders too much to say that it is tightly constructed. The premise is a bit on the far-fetched side, too much so to praise it. The prose is professional but not exactly poetic. The characters, if I really think about them, are a bit hard to believe. But all that said I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and did not want it to end. I even put off reading it, just so I could delay the ending.
The story concerns a young woman, Rosemary, who leaves her childhood home above her mother's hat shop in Tazmania for the excitement of New York City. Her mother has died, Rosemary takes brings her ashes along, and she has no relations in Tazmania but a long time family friend who owns a small book shop and has encouraged Rosemary to go to New York. Rosemary finds a cheap room in a women-only hotel and gets a job at the Arcade, a wonderful used and antique book store in Manhattan. The rest of the novel is about Rosemary and the people she meets at the hotel and at the Arcade. Some may find the cast of characters is not all that original. There is the refugee woman who runs the desk at Rosemary's hotel, a curmudgeonly old man who runs the antique book section and is losing his eyesight, a pre-operative transsexual, Pearl, who runs the cash register and makes up prices for books on the spot, a Lothario who runs one section of the Arcade and an asexual man, Oscar, who runs the other. Rosemary, of course, falls in love with Oscar in spite of Pearl's stern advice not to.
I just really liked them all. I honestly wouldn't want any of them over for dinner, but as characters in a book, they grew on me. So much so, I can state here and now that if there is ever I sequel, I will buy it. In part, I think this is because I've long had a secret fantasy to own or even just work in a book store. Obviously, I could go and get a part time job in one, my evenings are basically free after four, but I think I'd prefer the fantasy over the reality. The Arcade is just the sort of store I'd like to work in-- full of books, packed to the rafters, new books arriving everyday, with an organizing system that can best be described as loose. The sort of store that holds just the book you've always wanted but didn't know existed. There are few stores like it left in America. I'm guessing the Arcade is based on The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, but I've been to The Strand; the Arcade sounds much more to my liking.
There is a plot about a lost Herman Melville classic that is set in motion about halfway through the novel, but this did not get in the way of my enjoyment. It also never became my reason for reading. I really just wanted to know what would happen in the Arcade from day to day. I still do. So I'm not exactly sure what sort of recommendation this is, but I am recommending the book. I'm also giving it away.
From today until the end of 2008 I'll be giving away the books I review here. Unless it belongs to the library, Dakota eats it, or I just really want to keep it for some reason, if I review it--it can be yours. Just leave a comment of some kind, mention that you'd like to be entered in the giveaway for that book and come January 1, 2009 you just may get a slightly used copy. Post a link to the review/contest and I'll enter your name three times. There is no limit to the number of book giveaways you can enter (or the number of links you can post), but you must leave a comment for each book you'd like to win. I'll give away up to four titles, selected at random, to anyone anywhere on the planet. The deadline to enter is 12:00 midnight on New Years Eve. Pacific Time.