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The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
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The Secret of Lost Things (2007)

by Sheridan Hay

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One small quibble... One doesn't write "Tasmania" on the customs form. One writes, TAS and the postal code and then AUSTRALIA. Despite Tasmania's cultural independence, they are still part of Australia. Just as when mailing things Hawaii gets reduced to HI.

The review:

Sometimes a book will just click with a reader. Everything (or almost everything) will fall into place and just be a shared experience between the author, the fictional characters and the reader. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay was one of those books for me.

Rosemary born on Anzac Day and therefore named for the herb often worn on lapels in Australia. Until her eighteenth birthday her home is her mother's hat shop in Tasmania. When her mother dies she is sent by a bookseller friend to New York with her mother's ashes in a box of Huon pine, one of the most pungent pine scents I have ever smelled; it seems to permeate the entire island.

In that first chapter I was drawn back to my own experience as an exchange student in Tasmania at the age of 17. I can picture the very first place I visited on my own, a used book shop in Ulverstone to buy Nova by Samuel R. Delany for $5.20. I was just as naive and confused by Tasmanian culture (which is a blend of mainland Australian and British ex-pat cultures) as Rosemary is in New York. I can remember being overwhelmed by homesickness at the aroma of the Huon pines (which aren't really pines but smell enough like them to confuse a jet-lagged nose) growing at the Don college.

Then there is Rosemary's time in New York where she works at a place called The Arcade (and apparently inspired by the author's time working at the Strand). Although I haven't worked in a bookstore (would love to someday) I have worked in a university library and in my father's antique shop both which attract people similar to the characters in The Secret of Lost Things.

The final point where I clicked with Rosemary was with her involvement in the search for Melville's lost novel, Isle of the Cross (1853). While I'm no Melville scholar, I am a bit of a fan of his and Hawthorne's books and was vaguely aware of their odd friendship.

Had all those different pieces in my life not been in place I probably would have been more troubled by the novel's flaws. The wacky characters are sometimes too two-dimensional, Rosemary stays naive too long, her obsession with Oscar is just as creepy as Geist's obsession with her is. Yes, those flaws are there but the connection I felt with the book was so strong I don't care about any of them. ( )
  pussreboots | Aug 23, 2015 |
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. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Feb 4, 2015 |
I'd probably give it closer to 2.5 stars. It wasn't a bad read; interesting, but odd. The bookstore setting and search for a lost Melville manuscript added some intrigue to what I thought was really a coming of age novel. ( )
  carebear10712 | Dec 31, 2014 |
The Secret of Lost Things. Sheridan Hay. 2007. Pat gave me this book when we were at the beach, and I started reading it there. When a Tasmanian woman’s mother dies, her mother’s friend gives her a ticket to NY City. She is hired to work in an enormous bookstore full of old and new books and an odd assortment of people. Her supervisor, a mysterious albino involves her in a mysterious search for a lost manuscript of Herman Melville. Bookstore, weird characters, secret manuscript—all the things I like to read about, but somehow it did not come together. Maybe it is because it took me so long to read it. ( )
  judithrs | Oct 14, 2013 |
Rosemary Savage is only 18 when she leaves Tasmania to find a new life for herself in New York City. Still grieving for her mother who passed shortly before she left, Rosemary has a difficult time adjusting to life in the big city, where nobody knows her and she is completely on her own. After a couple of weeks living in a temporary women's apartment house, Rosemary finds a job in an extremely popular though unusual used bookstore, where she is the only female employee, apart from a transgendered cashier named Pearl. As Rosemary is a floater, she helps out in all of the sections and works with a number of odd characters. Though Rosemary develops a secret crush on a celebate employee, Oscar, the floor manager develops a crush on Rosemary, and entwines her into a situation where she must work for him. As Rosemary becomes more settled and starts to make friends outside of the bookstore, she finds herself in a complicated set of alliances between different people involving the possibility of a lost Melville manuscript. Rosemary is young and confused about whom she should trust when she uses her resourcefulness to research Melville's history and fully understands what might be at stake.

I thought this was a very charming novel with an interesting immigrant storyline taking place in a mysterious dusty bookstore. It was infused with the love of books, learning, and the history of literature. Really, a fantastic setting for a great novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope the author decides to write more! ( )
  voracious | Sep 23, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Hay's debut has all the elements of a literary thriller, but they don't quite come together.
 
When Hay leaves the 19th century and bounds back to the weird world of the bookstore, she’s a lyrical, exciting writer. Rosemary is an unspoiled innocent, a quality that attracts the others, and it’s partly because of her that the novel, while so literary in its aspirations, isn’t pretentious.

 
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Epigraph
". . . for experience, the only true knowledge . . ."
-- Herman Melville
The Confidence Man
Dedication
For Michael, my own tempest
First words
I was born before this story starts, before I dreamed of such a place as the Arcade, before I imagined men like Walter Geist existed outside of fables, outside of fairy tales.
Quotations
I was a small sultana, my treasure counted in the currency of trifles.
For her part, Chaps was too well read to be considered entirely proper. Books had made her unreasonably independent.
I knew books to be objects that loved to cluster and form disordered piles, but here books seemed robbed of their zany capacity to fall about, to conspire. In the library, books behaved themselves.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Author was a clerk at the Strand Bookstore (NYC) on which "The Arcade" bookstore is based.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030727733X, Paperback)

Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:53 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Rosemary, a young woman recently arrived in New York from Tasmania, is pulled into a tangled mystery involving a lost manuscript by Herman Melville known as "The Isle of the Cross."

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