Title: The Secret of Lost Things
Author: Sheridan Hay
Length: 354 pages
I have a shelf in my house dedicated to what I’d like to call “bookish books.” On this shelf are the likes of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and first edition copies of Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness and Patience and Fortitude. On this unit Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, has an entire shelf dedicated only to him. Everything Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, resides here. This is the corner of my house I go to when I need inspiration, to write, to read, to research and exist in the world I have built for myself. Of course, when I purchased Sheridan Hay’s The Secret of Lost Things, this corner of my house is precisely what I was thinking of, knowing one day this title would fill a void in my academic and readerly drive.
The Secret of Lost Things is a book written in the spirit of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, filled with dark library corners, clues in letters, and missing manuscripts. The difference is, most books of this nature romanticize secrets, portraying the keeping of them as a means to grow closer to others. Hay, on the other hand, presents a scenario closer to the truth: when all is said and done, these secrets cause heartbreak and drive people apart.
I find the character of Rosemary endearing. Instead of being a master secret keeper, like many heroines thrown in the this kind of novel, she is awful at it. Keeping a secret is her kryptonite, but not because she’s a chatty Cathy, just because it is not in her nature to be deceptive or to omit information from people she calls friends. It’s a refreshing take on an often visited theme.
I love reading these kinds of books because they always give me lists of things to tackle, information to seek out, as well as reminders of things I have already enjoyed. In this title alone, I am reminded of The Book of Imaginary Beings. I found mention of this title nostalgic, as it is one of Rosemary’s early purchases from the new bookstore where she works; likewise, I purchased and read this book the first year I worked for Half Price Books. It was a book I carried to lunch breaks at the lingerie store where I was still picking up shifts until I had the heart to break up with the boutique altogether.
After reading this novel I am also inspired to tackle more Melville titles. I have read Moby Dick twice now, but I have Typee, Omoo, and Mardi on the shelf, as well as a biography I have passed over far too many times to read other biographies first. It is virtually impossible to read Hay’s Secret of Lost Things and not want to immediately dive into a Melville binge. If you doubt me, I dare you to try. Come talk to me when you’re done reading.
Exchanges like these are what really do it for me:
“We’re looking for something that’s lost,” he said. “A book that was lost.”
“Well, if it’s lost, and people don’t know it’s lost, what am I supposed to notice?”
“Here, read this book of letters. Just read and tell me when you find something interesting. It’s called research. The idea is that you don’t know what you’ll find until you find it,” he added irritated.
At one point, the character Pearl gives Rosemary a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a title that repeatedly haunts me in everything I read. Seriously, will every author I love mention this title in every book that moves me until the end of time? I think so. I have a beautiful hardback waiting for me on my coffee table. It has been there for months. It will be there for months still, but I am one step closer to diving in than I was before I read Hay.
So yes, Sheridan Hay’s book is appropriately dubbed one of my bookish books. I have loved it, it shall join it’s literary cousins on my shelf. One day I will take the time to read it again; it is that good. In the mean time, I have research projects to tackle.
Aside from it’s bookish-ness, The Secret of Lost Things is exceptionally well written. I don’t read the backs of books before I read them. That’s especially rewarding when reading books like this where the sensation of experiencing a story the way you do a boat ride occurs… on waves of unexpected tales in motion with the lulls of the story you thought you would get. It’s beautiful and pleasant and especially appropriate in a novel where the author of Moby Dick stands in the forefront. What is equally lovely is that I had this sensation of being on a ship a mere ten pages before the narrator expresses the same sentiment about the setting of the bookshop.
What Rosemary likes about the Arcade is the same thing I first remember liking about Half Price Books when I was hired in 2007. On page 139 Rosemary says, “Well, the Arcade is like the ship to me. You know, people from everywhere, on a great adventure.” When I think of the Arcade, I imagine it to look and feel more like Good Books in the Woods of The Woodlands or The Recycled Bookstore in Denton than my Half Price Books location, but the sentiment is the same.
Note: People who enjoyed Kate Morton‘s The Forgotten Garden and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale will probably also like this book. They are bookish books that belong on that shelf, but have been squeezed into my general fiction section for lack of space.