Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bookstore intrigue

Something there is about a bookstore that makes it an unlikely place to find deceit, betrayal, intrigue and death. All this and more happening in a New York City used bookstore called the Arcade make Sheridan Hay's 2007 novel The Secret of Lost Things an enticing read.

Told in first person by Rosemary Savage, a lonely 18-year-old who leaves Tasmania for New York after her mother dies, the story becomes something of a coming-of-age tale. She finds a mother figure in Lillian, a woman from South America who lives at the same hotel where Rosemary settles. She develops a crush on Oscar, handsome coworker, even though he makes it clear he has no romantic interest in her or anyone else. Because of her youth, beauty and innocence, Rosemary becomes everyone's sounding board at the Arcade. She learns their secrets and, in some sense, becomes their co-conspirator.

She is made the assistant of Walter Geist, a strange man who is losing his vision and increasingly depends on Rosemary to help him do his job. She learns Geist plans to sell to a wealthy collector, without the knowledge of his employer, an unpublished manuscript of a book by Herman Melville. Meanwhile, Oscar wants her to spy on Walter because he thinks the manuscript belongs in a library or museum, not hidden away in somebody's home. Still hoping to win his love, Rosemary goes along with him, betraying both Walter and Mr. Pike, her boss. And, while Oscar may have no romantic interest in Rosemary, it soon develops that Walter does.

The Secret of Lost Things is Sheridan Hay's first novel and, as far as I know, her only book to date. It is partly autobiographical as Hay herself left Australia for New York City, where she worked first for the Strand Bookstore. She now teaches literature. Her passion for literature, books and bookstores shine through in this fine novel.

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