The Secret of Lost Things
By Sheridan Hay
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385518482, 368pp.)
Publication Date: March 6, 2007
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A missing manuscript
A young woman's voyage of discovery
And the curious bookshop where it all begins...
In this charming novel about the eccentricities and passions of booksellers and collectors, a captivating young Australian woman takes a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books in New York City and finds herself caught up in the search for a lost Melville manuscript.
Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little more than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city she’s read so much about. She begins her memorable search for independence with appealing enthusiasm, and the moment she steps into the Arcade bookstore, she knows she has found a home. The gruff owner, Mr. Pike, gives her a job sorting through huge piles of books and helping the rest of the staff—a group as odd and idiosyncratic as the characters in a Dickens novel. There’s Pearl, the loving, motherly transsexual who runs the cash register; Oscar, who organizes the nonfiction section and shares his extensive, eclectic knowledge with Rosemary, but furiously rejects her attempts at a more personal relationship; and Arthur Pick, who supervises the art section and demonstrates a particular interest in photography books featuring naked men.
The store manager, Walter Geist, is an albino, a lonely figure even within the world of the Arcade. When Walter’s eyesight begins to fail, Rosemary becomes his assistant. And so it is Rosemary who first reads the letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville. Mentioned in Melville’s personal correspondence but never published, the work is of inestimable value, and proof of its existence brings the simmering ambitions and rivalries of the Arcade staff to a boiling point.
Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure that captures the excitement of discovering a long-lost manuscript by a towering American writer and an evocative portrait of life in a surprisingly colorful bookstore.
SHERIDAN HAY worked in bookstores and in trade publishing both in her native Australia and in New York. She holds an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington, and has lived in New York for twenty years.
1. In the novel's opening pages, Rosemary tells us she was born on Anzac Day, commemorating the death of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli. How is she affected by knowing this? What does April 25 signify in both the opening and closing chapters?
A brilliant version of the coming-to-adulthood-in-Manhattan story with a page-turner of a plot about a lost manuscript for which the people around the charming heroine are willing to do very nasty things. But beneath all the action, the theme of lost homes becomes ever more delicately insistent. Pacy, confident, and beautifully written, Lost Things satisfies on every level.
—Nuala O’Faolain, #1 bestselling author of Are You Somebody?
I loved The Secret of Lost Things. I loved the Arcade bookstore and the characters Sheridan Hay has created to occupy it. They are all a bit mad and very alive in this intriguing and hugely entertaining novel.
—Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize–winning author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
This is a book about bookishness, the presence of the past. Herman Melville’s great ghost haunts the precincts of a bookstore, and the tale of those who hunt for him becomes both a kind of whodunit and a story of coming-of-age. Sheridan Hay peoples her canvas with characters both rare and strange, and there’s a page-turning intensity to her heroine’s quest after true love and truth. With The Secret of Lost Things, a genuine new artist has been found.
—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Spring and Fall
Sheridan Hay gives us New York in fresh snow, mother-memories in a box, a bookstore worthy of an opera, the rumblings and fumblings of desire, and a story stoked by (of all people!) Herman Melville—delivered in a voice at once wryly smart and truthfully sorrowing. How not to be won over?
—Martha Cooley, author of The Archivist
Sheridan Hay writes with a watchful eye and a nuanced heart, investing us in the fate of Rosemary Savage and the drama of bookish obsession becoming obsession plain and simple. She tracks her vivid eccentrics, flushes out their desperate natures, and suddenly we feel the old business of innocence and experience freshly lit. The tormented spirit of Melville comes gusting through, but by design—The Secret of Lost Things forges ahead on its own strong sail.
—Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies
An utterly charming book. One turns these pages easily, with wonderment and delight, ushered into this strange, entrancing world of lost books, secrets, and the discoveries of a loving heart.
—Sheila Kohler, author of Cracks, The Perfect Place, and The House on R Street