The Secret of Lost Things

The Secret of Lost Things

by Sheridan Hay


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307277336
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/11/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 974,917
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Sheridan Hay has worked in book stores (including the Strand) and in trade publishing for many years. She holds an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington, and has published short stories. She teaches writing in the graduate program at Parson's School of Design at the New School. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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. My time at the Arcade would have gone very differently but for him, for his blindness. His eyes were nearly useless when I met him, and were it not for his condition, I would never have known about Herman Melville’s lost book. Walter Geist’s blindness is important, but it’s my own, with regard to him, that remains a lasting regret. It’s the reason for this story. If I start with my own beginning you will understand how I came to the Arcade, and how it came to mean so much to me.

I was born on April twenty–fifth, never mind what year precisely; I’m not so young that I care to put my age about, but not so old now that I forget the girl I was.

My birth date, however, is significant in another sense. April twenty–fifth is Anzac Day, the most important day of commemoration on the Australian calendar. It is the day when Australians pin sprigs of rosemary to their breasts to remember those lost to war, to remember that first great loss, at Gallipoli, where rosemary grows wild on the beaches. “There's rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” says Ophelia, once she’s lost her mind to grief. “Pray you, love, remember.”

It was April twenty–fifth on the island state of Tasmania, when my mother saw stalks of spiky rosemary pinned over hearts, the day she walked to the free public hospital to give birth to me, walked through the crowded Square trying to avoid the ragged annual parade of veterans and gawking locals. That hardy plant stayed in her mind through a difficult labor, not as the symbol of loss, for she was gaining me, but as an emblem of memory.

Anzac Day, then, determined my name—Rosemary. And given along with my name, the occupation I practice here—to remember. After all, memory is a kind of obligation, perhaps the last duty owed anyone.

I have only one other name. My last—Savage. And Mother too gave me this name, only Mother. She brought me home to the small flat she rented above the shop off the central town Square. Remarkable Hats was the only store of its kind on the island of Tasmania, and we grew up in that shop, Mother and me. But like a pair of goldfish, we grew only so much as the bowl allowed. We came to fit it, but we lived in a bowl of separateness, a transparent wall between us and the rest of the town. Mother had come from the mainland, she was an outsider, and everyone knew that “Mrs.” Savage was a prefix that didn't disguise one single defining fact: there wasn’t a husband in sight.

But disguise, in a way, was Mother’s business. Hats, after all, can cover up a good deal of what one might not want revealed. Hats can even grant a measure of acceptance to a woman who’d appeared from the mainland to establish a small, decent business—pregnant, without an apparent partner.

“It’s hats that saved us,” Mother often said. “That’s why I call these hats remarkable. They made me unavoidable to respectable people.”

It was imagination that saved us. Hers, in particular. And I like to think imagination was her gift to me.

Remarkable Hats made Mother something of an arbiter of taste in our town as well as wise to vanity. She could guess the hat size of customers within moments of laying eyes on them. The measurements of regular customers she memorized, along with a characteristic that, to her, matched the circumference of their head.

If she saw our prosperous and ambitious landlord, Mr. Frank, in the Square she’d say: “That Mr. Frank, no wonder he’s a nine–and–three–quarters. With all those big ideas, he certainly needs the space.”

Or she’d mention that Mrs. Pym, the florist, had been trying on hats to wear to the Cup: “Of course, Rosemary, nothing I had was right. Pym is one of those five–and–a–halfs. Practically a pinhead. No room in there for a thought, let alone a decision.”

Hats were oracles, divining rods to behavior, and while Mother’s way of judging her fellow Tasmanians was often accurate, matching the opprobrium of a small town with her own brand of snobbishness did little to relieve our isolation. Of course, isolation itself worked on our imaginations, our illusions, separating us even more. We were only glancingly acknowledged, and never included. I helped in the store after school. Friends were discouraged, if they’d ever been interested, or more precisely, curious.

We had each other.

“Better to do well in school,” Mother advised. “Keep up your reading.” And she’d tap her temple with her index finger for emphasis. “All your future’s there beneath your hat.”

She didn’t mention my body. She never did, except in the most perfunctory way, imparting only biological information. As Mother knew firsthand, bodies caused trouble.

She did have one close friend, Esther Chapman, a mentor to me and the owner of Chapman’s, the only shop in the village that sold books. Miss Chapman (I called her Chaps from early on) helped to educate me, taking me to any theater that made its way to our small town, favoring the rare Shakespeare troupe that occasionally washed ashore in Tasmania. Chaps taught me to read before I started school, endowing my purposes with words she would have said, quoting from her favorite play. Chaps held that books were essential, whereas hats were a kind of ephemera, a fancy, objects that ultimately wouldn’t provide Mother or me with security.

She worried for us.

“Books aren’t lumps of paper, but minds on shelves,” she urged Mother. “After all, hats aren’t books—people don’t need them.”

“Tell that to a bald man in the summer,” Mother teased back. “Or to a plain–faced woman.”

But Chaps was right to be concerned.

By the time I finished school, Remarkable Hats was mostly remarkable in that it was still in business. Hats were no longer fashionable, no longer the article of differentiation between decent people and ill–bred ones. Hats went the way of gloves and stockings. Eventually, even regular customers were infrequent, not immune to the whims of fashion or mortality. The town itself was waning.

Mother’s own health had been in steady decline for some time, linked as it was to the dwindling business. She was a small woman, and dark, and she grew thin and pale with worry. As I grew older, Mother diminished. In the absence of customers, Mother had me try on hats after school. I had the height, she liked to tell me. It cheered her up.

I’d find her dozing on her stool behind the high serving counter in the afternoon. She said she could only rest in daylight, that she was most comfortable in the opened store, and that nights were spent endlessly waiting for day. When I finally discovered how deeply in debt we were, Mother’s insomnia was all at once explained.

Late morning one April day, a few months after I’d finished school, I came down the back stairs which joined our small flat to the shop, and found Mother collapsed behind the counter. Her breath was halted, her face the livid color of a bruise, as if she’d been beaten.

Mother died a day later, in the same free hospital where she’d given birth to me. By grotesque coincidence then, it appeared that the town, the state, and the whole of Australia commemorated my private loss publicly, the day I turned eighteen. Anzac Day. I didn’t consider the rosemary pinned to lapels an admonition to remember.

I would never forget.


Mother’s funeral was a short, unsentimental proceeding the following week. I stood in disbelief at the copper door of the mock tomb, a deco affair, that housed the crematorium, set on the highest hill above town. Five old regulars were good enough to come. Both men respectfully held hats to their chests, while the women thoughtfully appeared in Remarkable chapeaus. I thanked them along with Chaps, now my unofficial guardian.

The service was impoverished. Mother and I possessed no religion, save the worship of imagination, of living a kind of fiction, which death, in all its realness, had made a mockery of.

Afterward, we gathered awkwardly in the parking lot outside the tomb until the regulars departed solemnly in their cars, single file, down the steep road. I watched them grow smaller as they separated at the crossroads, the town below just a handful of scattered red tiles, haphazardly thrown across low green hills, without order or pattern, carelessly. It was a narrow, ugly spot on an island of tremendous beauty. The village had never seemed smaller or more unremarkable.

“She’s gone, Chaps,” was all I could manage, feeling short of breath.

The funeral director approached after a while, handing me Mother’s ashes sealed inside a wooden box.

“You said you wanted the simplest one, Miss Rosemary. And this here is the simplest. It’s a native timber, Huon pine. Tasmanian heartwood. Very strong and durable.”

He rapped the box with his knuckles. I winced. Chaps knew him, and, helpfully, the one funeral director in town who wasn’t too unctuous was also the least expensive. But he was nervous for his line of work, and oddly unpracticed in handling grief. He chatted away, not oblivious to my distress but perhaps made so anxious by it that he sought to fend it off with information.

“My supplier told me once that Huon pines can live a thousand years. Practically forever. Isn’t that something?” He went on: “The wood has a very distinctive perfume, too—strong.” He sniffed. “It’s usually found on the west coast of the island—”

“Yes. Thank you,” Chaps said, cutting him off. She took me by the elbow and tried to lead me toward her car. I appeared fixed to the spot.

I held the box of Huon pine with both hands spread beneath, unable to move. The box was warm and smelled faintly corrupt. My eyes began to tear, the water on my face as startling to me as to the nervous director.

Chaps finally pushed me to her car and drove me to her little house. I couldn't get out, or really move at all, so we set off again, driving in silence down long Tasmanian roads all the way to the coast.

“The ocean,” Chaps said by way of explanation when, eventually, the paved road ended in sand and the sea stretched away, white–capped and vast, before us.

Chaps rolled down the windows so I could smell the salt and feel the pure, fresh Roaring Forties blow their way west to the bottom of the world, to the end of the great globe itself. My throat choked in the cleanest air that exists and I tried to catch my breath. Staring at the ocean, I felt at once surrounded and alone. Between me, there on the Tasmanian island, and ice–covered Antarctica lay nothing but empty, open sea, unpeopled and unknowing. I bent over the Huon box, but couldn’t utter a word until night came in, cold and complete, carried across the Great Southern Ocean by those same prevailing winds.

“What will I do?” I finally breathed aloud.

Chaps, who always had an aphorism to hand, was silent.

Chapter Two

For nearly every year of my early life I went with Mother to Sydney, on the mainland, to buy hats and the materials milliners use to dress hats. We made sure to spend my birthday in the city; it was, of course, a public holiday. At first, we stayed in a boardinghouse in Surrey Hills, on Sophia Street. Mother had known the landlady, Merle, before she’d moved to Tasmania, when she lived a life I know nothing about. Her own life before mine.

Merle was a fat, angry woman with small eyes and dyed hair. She resembled a magpie, all black and white and on the lookout for morsels. Her rooming house was cheap, smelled of boiled vegetables; and until I was five and old enough to go with Mother to suppliers, I was left there with Merle for several hours.

Those early hours away from Mother are circumscribed in my memory by a shortage of breath. I can’t have actually held my breath, but the sensation of breathlessness is attached to Mother’s absence like a keepsake. Afraid to upset an invented balance that would result in Mother’s continued nonappearance, I stayed as quiet as possible in the stale–smelling sitting room. Her return was marked with great intakes of breath and tremendous exhales: life restored to the small cadaver I’d become.

“That’s the quietest child I’ve ever seen, Mrs. Savage,” Merle would say, tutting, and shaking her big, smooth head. “It’s not natural to be so good. I’m happy to watch her, she’s no trouble, but it’s like she only exists for you.”

“I'm all she’s got,” Mother said, often.


“Next year, Rosemary love, you can come with me and do the rounds,” Mother promised. “I don’t want to leave you any more than you want me to.”

So began annual encounters with haberdashery and notions, with felt workrooms full of rabbit pelts and beaver furs, with polished wooden heads and metal blocks (screws protruding from their necks), devices that formed crowns and shaped hats. The storefront shops were bright and cool, but the workrooms behind them were vaporous and warm, the air thick with condensation from steam used to mold and clean hats.

Every supplier indulged me. I was distracted, entertained with bright buttons and lengths of silk ribbon while Mother placed her orders and reviewed new styles. Like a bower bird, everything that sparkled caught my eye. I was served triangular sandwiches, and drank milk from a frosted glass with a striped paper straw. I was a small sultana, my treasure counted in the currency of trifles.

Foys supplied all the biggest department stores with accessories. The notion display room was lined with a wall of slim wooden drawers, built half a century before, that opened to reveal a collection of bric–a–brac: zippers, buttons, samples of fur and skins, silk flowers, sequins translucent as fish scales, glass beads, dye samples, feathers from unimaginable birds, sweets and fruit made from wax. The wall of drawers held hundreds of brilliantly colored trinkets designed to trim hats, to dress lapels or shoes or belts. Ornaments came from all over the world: marcasite stones from Czechoslovakia, brilliant as metallic diamonds, and rhinestone pins, direct from France, were stored in deep lower drawers, pirate’s chests unearthed.

I used to imagine that the endlessly varied objects contained in the drawers appeared only moments before the knob was pulled and the drawer opened, as if conjured by my wish to see them. The wall of drawers appeared to my small self to hold everything; and “things,” of course, were the sum of the world.

Workroom girls told Mother I would be beautiful one day, “What with that hair,” they'd say. Mother looked dubious. My hair was thick and red, and seemed hardly to belong to me. I must have favored my father, and likely shared as well his green eyes and freckled skin, for Mother’s dark hair set off fathomless blue eyes, and her skin was flawless, the color of very milky tea. She was bird–boned and compact, her bosom high. It seems barely credible that I was her child, so little did we resemble each other.

Reading Group Guide

"Altogether enchanting. . . . Anyone susceptible to the sorcery of books is likely to fall under the spell of this one." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay.

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?

2. What transformations take place between each of the book's four sections? How did your impressions of Rosemary change throughout the novel?

3. What motivated Chaps to send Rosemary to New York? In what ways was she different from Rosemary's mother? Which friends become Rosemary's “foster mothers” after she travels to New York?

4. Discuss the dynamics of the Arcade's employees. What is the nature of the antagonism between Robert Mitchell and George Pike? What is Walter Geist's role in that triangle? What role does memory play in the operation of the Arcade?

5. What does Pearl teach Rosemary about being a woman? In Pearl's eyes, what differences exist between the way men and women behave? How does Rosemary react to the many points of view about gender and sex she encounters in her new city?

6. In what way is Moby Dick an effective choice in metaphor for this novel? How does Rosemary survive her voyage?

7. What observations are made about power and love throughout The Secret of Lost Things? What is the nature of Geist's infatuation with Rosemary? What does Rosemary discover about negotiating desire when Oscar rejects her?

8. How do money and integrity shape Rosemary's fate? What is a “gift” and what is an “obligation”? How do collectors like Julian Peabody, and known thieves like Redburn, influence the value of creative works?

9. Discuss the underlined portions of W. H. Auden's poetry that Rosemary discovers near the end of chapter sixteen. If the book had indeed been left as a message for her, what was the implication (and the reality) of the line “All we are not stares back at what we are,” which was drawn from Auden's poetic homage to The Tempest?

10. In what way does New York serve as a character in the novel? How does the Arcade itself act as a character, as a metaphor?

11. How do Rosemary and Lillian face the loss of a beloved relative and the loss of a homeland differently? How have these losses shaped their attitudes toward life?

12. What did you believe about The Isle of the Cross? Besides literal blindness, what other types of impaired vision make humans vulnerable to being duped? Who (or what) was responsible for Geist's death?

13. Do you agree with Chaps's statement in the opening scenes when she tells Rosemary's mother that “books aren't lumps of paper but minds on shelves. After all, hats aren't books-people don't need them”? What is it about the commodity of used books that makes the Arcade special? Is there a book that 'changed' you?

14. Whether within a city or across an ocean, which moves were the most significant ones in your life? Is there a faraway place you dream of, as Rosemary dreamed of Manhattan? Have you ever had Rosemary's experience of creating an entirely new life for yourself?

15. Ultimately, what is the secret of lost things? How can we regain what we lose, or cope with never finding them again? What sorts of things, or people or emotions, are lost and found in the novel? Which secrets were destructive, and which were necessary?

Customer Reviews

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Secret of Lost Things 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
melancholycat More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hay's language is beautiful, though like others said, it is pretty advanced and a dictionary is definitely handy to have next to you. While I found her writing style lovely, I did find it incongruous for an 18-20 year old protagonist to speak in such a manner. Now that I think of it, my rating for this novel may simply be because of the language. It was interesting, and I couldn't stop reading, but as others have mentioned the plot sort of ambled along without achieving or revealing any coherent point. I recommend the novel, but I think it is definitely one of those books that people will either like or dislike with little middle ground.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a former bookstore owner and a mystery fan I found this book appealed to both aspects of my life. The offbeat characters remain believable and real throughout the book. Some of the information about real people also lent to the interest I had in this book.
Mary6508 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A coming of age story. The first half was slow going, it was mostly vignettes about all the employees/characters. When Rosemary moved into her own 'apartment', I found it hard to believe a young girl would stay there alone. I also found it hard to believe she let herself be seduced by the albino. The ending was not much of a surprise to me. While Hay's writing is excellent, next time I hope she chooses a more interesting subject. I don't know if I'd recommend this to anyone I know.
bluesviola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i very much liked this book about a very woman from down under who makes her way to NYC. She finds a job in a bookstore, much like I imagine it is to work at Powell's downtown store. Has a number of twists and turns that befall a person adopting a dysfunctional "family". Great curl up Friday night book.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Couldn't find a way in to it and had to force myself to finish it but mostly skimmed
tobiejonzarelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book, I love books about books, but think the author needs more polish.(Tthis refers to the advance reader copy.)
melancholycat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hay's language is beautiful, though like others said, it is pretty advanced and a dictionary is definitely handy to have next to you. While I found her writing style lovely, I did find it incongruous for an 18-20 year old protagonist to speak in such a manner. Now that I think of it, my rating for this novel may simply be because of the language. It was interesting, and I couldn't stop reading, but as others have mentioned the plot sort of ambled along without achieving or revealing any coherent point. I recommend the novel, but I think it is definitely one of those books that people will either like or dislike with little middle ground.
maiadeb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyable! The characters are believable and worthy of our interest. The writing evokes the smells of the books and the bookstore and regard for Rosemary never wavers. Good read.
whitty222 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I loved being able to be a voyeur in the quirky and fascinating world of the Arcade. It reminded me of a John Irving novel, with extraordinary, well-developed characters. I couldn't put the book down, but was sad when I finished it, always the mark of a good read.
robbieg_422 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a story of lost things, both literally, and in every sense.Rosemary Savage finds herself in New York City, working at a bookstore. The Secret of Lost Things chronicles her time there. Written in first person, it reads like a memoir, written by the now much wiser main character, Rosemary Savage. With literary prose, she tells her coming-of-age story as it leads up to life-altering events that change the way she views the world. The people she encounters seem to all be lost in their own, often strange, ways. Apart from being lost, Rosemary is their common thread. They are not necessarily likable, but the way she sees them is. They all want to teach her something, as if she is the key to being found. There are many parallels between Rosemary¿s own journey and those of the people, places, and things around her. I really liked this book. For one thing, it takes place (mostly) in a bookstore, even if it is a strange one. I loved the many references to Shakespeare, among others, and mostly Herman Melville, whose works are much entangled into Rosemary¿s story. She finds that he, too, was lost, in a way. I¿ve never read Melville, and this left me wanting to read Moby Dick. I think Rosemary did discover the secret of lost things, but I won¿t give that away¿you¿ll have to read it to determine that for yourself.The author did a lot of research for this novel, which gives it validity. She explains her sources in an author¿s note at the end, and I appreciate that she points out what is fact and what is fiction, as they are interspersed throughout the novel. Not all authors are as clear on that point¿I won¿t name names¿.I would recommend to anyone who likes books about books, with a little mystery and intrigue thrown in among some very colorful (and one not¿) characters.It gets a 5 out of 5 from me.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After losing her mother on her 18th birthday, Rosemary Savage arrives in 1970s New York with nothing more than $300 and a burning need to find something to fill the void. She winds up at the Arcade, a spralling used bookstore characterized by piles of books, acquisitive customers, and eccentric employees. As Rosemary tries to adjust to life away from her native Tasmania, she finds herself drawn into an intrigue surrounding a lost novel by Herman Melville.

The mystery element of this story was the weakest part in my opinion- the storyline was neither compelling nor convincing, and too many unanswered questions remained unanswered at the end of the book. Regardless, the beautiful prose was enough to carry this weak story from start to finish. The portraits of the characters were deftly drawn, and I truly felt the pain of Rosemary's extreme naiveté and her awkward relationships with Oscar and Mr. Geist. The writing is lyrical and dense, a festival for the eyes and brain that called to mind another novel of literary discovery- [book: The Thirteenth Tale]. Though I wish the details of the mystery had been more fully fleshed, I highly recommend this book for the power of the writing alone.
angela.vaughn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to say this was not one of my favorite books. The story line seems to be a good one young woman with no father, looses mother on birthday. She moves to New York to find her way in life, and in the meantime finds a job at a book store. She meets all the misfits in her daily life and also unknowingly gets herself in the middle of a scandle.The problem I had was how long it took for anything to really start happening. There where several chapters of nothing but set up. Once the story really started moving, it was ok. I liked the historical links, it was a great bonus.However, I am not so sure I will recommend it.
JenSay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young girl moves to New York from Tasmania after her mother passes away. She gets a job at a bookstore full of eccentric employees. In fact, they might be too eccentric. It seems at times that the author is pushing them in our faces and trying to convince readers that we should like these characters. It didn't work for me. I like the idea of a lost manuscript. Although personally, I'm not a fan of Melville, so I say "Let it stay lost." The quest to find acceptance, friendship, romance, and the manuscript just don't come together for me. Too much searching, looking, and yearning, and not enough just plain storytelling.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rosemary has lived all of her eighteen years in a small town in Tasmania. When her mother dies, a family friend sends her off to New York armed with three hundred dollars and her mother's ashes in a small pine box. Rosemary finds a job in an enormous used and rare bookstore where the employees are about as colorful as you could hope to find in the NYC of 1980. Rosemary learns to negotiate relationships, although the man she decides to fall in love with is about as unsuitable as possible.There is a mystery, too. A manuscript, presumed lost, by Herman Melville is hinted at and she, as well as a few others at the bookstore, begin searching for clues to its nature. This book is beautifully written, in a slightly old-fashioned way, reminiscent of The Thirteenth Tale. Rosemary is naive, in the way of a sheltered eighteen-year-old, but she isn't stupid. The book explores Melville's friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and how his career as a writer ended with the publication of Moby Dick. The parts about Melville are eloquent and have me eager to dig into Moby Dick.
berylweidenbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved the writing! Very talented author with an enormous vocabulary! Interesting characters, and some were REALLY characters.The "plot" was mildly entertaining, but the basis of the story was really about knowing yourself and accepting others for how they are, faults and all. I hope to read more in the coming years by this author!
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
skraft001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A reader's true joy is in building in their mind's eye the surroundings painted in words by the author. It was my mistake to have read the "acclaim" for the book prior to reading it. The comment that made the rad far less enjoyable reads (in part) ... to the overstuffed bookstore in New York that calls to mind the Strand.... ARGH -- having been to the store and thence reading that the author had actually WORKED there could only cause continual conflict with the story. Knowing that in the Strand that the top floor is of Rare Books and is only accessible by elevator only made the situation worse.Aside from being totally distracted by the above, I would classify this a work of literature. Don't expect it to be a thriller with the heroine being chased around for the lost manuscript that has fallen into her hands. Rather tastefully done -- with the author obviously having a passion for books.
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting semi-autobiographical tale of what a young Austrialian immigrant life is like working at a quirky bookstore modeled on the Strand in the alte 1970's.
rizeandshine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A heroine from Australia, a cavernous used bookstore, a lost manuscript, intrigue, eccentric characters...all the elements that I would expect in a great read. However, somehow they didn't all come together for me. I did enjoy quite a lot of the story, but the characters seemed a bit to eccentric and I felt there were too many loose ends when I put down the book. Perhaps the author is thinking of a sequel?
alana_leigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A literary mystery can be just the thing you need, particularly when you're sick and stuck at home over the weekend as I was, so it was delightful to find The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay on a Barnes & Noble table... A young redhead named Rosemary just starting her life in Manhattan by working at a bookstore and becoming involved in a secret that involves a lost Melville novel? Naturally, I purchased it on the spot.But I'm sorry to say that there was one scene that seemed to rather exemplify the whole experience of reading this novel for me... and my summary is not for the faint of heart, so kids, turn back now. The scene is this: an ailing albino with an obsessive interest in the narrator manages (without any arm-twisting or pressure) to get her alone in the rare books room, where he ejaculates into her hand and then assumes an unearned intimacy to their relationship and conversation... shortly before the speedy conclusion to the story.Granted, the reading of this book was a much less sticky situation, and to be fair, Rosemary/we didn't put up a struggle when she/we found ourselves being groped by our albino manager/reading this book. He asked if she was okay and then suggested that she might be "unsatisfied." I latched onto this word and found it hard to forget as the book spiralled into its quick conclusion. As the reader, I too felt unsatisfied (and not because of a poor sex scene). Perhaps "unsatisfied" isn't even the right word... "disappointed" is a better fit. The book didn't quite build up my sense of anticipation to make "unsatisfied" a qualifiable adjective for my feelings at the end of what was supposed to be a literary mystery.I was disappointed on two levels... one, that the story had all the intriguing details and none of the complicated interconnectedness that one usually finds in a mystery... and two, that the writing was better than the tale being told and so the author's potential remained buried.I found the tale at the heart of this novel a great draw in the beginning and a great let-down at the end. As a bibliophile, how could I really turn away from a story like this? A missing Melville novel and a young woman working in a labyrinthine bookstore? It taps into some daydream that literate young women have, kept on the shelf besides the one where we open a book store in a small town. The cast of characters seemed just odd enough for a literary mystery (aside from the open-hearted pre-operative transsexual named Pearl with her wealthy boyfriend)... mostly comprised of older men with various issues (which includes the aforementioned albino manager). In addition, the author brought a wealth of knowledge to the table about various subjects with the tantalizing idea that there might be a more fantastic secret to unearth. All the elements were there, why didn't it work?Well, partially because the author wasn't trying to write the DaVinci Code or the Thirteenth Tale... the author ultimately decided to write about loss, whereas the book jacket promised adventure. Things did not connect, they remained in their own worlds and Rosemary just did her best to absorb all this information about loss and pain and frustration. One person's past did not converge with another's, the Melville novel did not turn up, the albino died. You can't blame this on the hype of marketing, because for a time, even Hay/Rosemary is caught up in research and is ducking behind bookshelves to eavesdrop on conversations. Perhaps Hay thought she was writing something more of a mystery before being unable to find a conclusion for that kind of story. In the usual literary mystery, all of these characters and detailed subjects should have been interwoven in a complex thread that made the main character realize everything was connected... but no. They weren't. All that Hay could come up with on this front was the knowledge that everyone was hungry for something they lost or never had... and each person dealt with this pain in a different
oldblack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young Australian woman (Rosemary, from the remote state of Tasmania) is brought up by her mother alone. When her mother dies she lives with another woman who decides that she should send Rosemary to New York. The story is mostly about Rosemary's growth to true adulthood while living in NY and working in a bookshop. Sounds boring, doesn't it? Well, even non-bibliophiles will find this story much more interesting than my summary suggests. It's not just about the nominal storyline (to do with a lost manuscript written by the author of Moby Dick), but there's a lot more complexity of relationships and real human stories. I suppose it does feed on a romantic view of what living in near poverty in New York would be like...and never having left Australia my ignorance makes me vulnerable to such visions. There's lots of other reviews of this book (it must have been a LT give-away) - I suggest you read those to get a more balanced perspective!
jeniwren on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The main character in this novel, Rosemary moves from Tasmania, Australia to New York after the death of her mother. She has a passion for books and finds a job in a large used bookstore called The Arcade. She makes some friends and becomes involved in some intrigue involving an alleged lost manuscript of Herman Mellville's. This was an enjoyable read and although the plot meanders with a few too many subplots its strength is the quirky characters that inhabit The Arcade. Amongst the mix is an albino bookstore manager, an immigrant woman with a tragic past, the transsexual cashier and Rosemary's infatuation with a man who is obsessed with note taking and trivia but sadly he doesnt feel the same way about her. The writing is quite beautiful and definitely an author to watch and I would recommend this a decent read with characters that linger rather than the story.
LeHack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book about books - what could be better! The setting is New York City - a large bookshop with used and rare books. A search for a lost Melville manuscript. I was a little disappointed with the ending - at first, but I don't want to have any spoilers here.
kotasmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great coming of age novel about a young orphan who makes her way to New York City and finds a job in a massive used bookstore called the Arcade (clearly meant to be the Strand). The story is the coming of age of a young girl as well as a literary mystery involving a lost manuscript by Herman Melville. Great read.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿The Secret of Lost Things¿ is the latest in a long-ish list of books about characters that love books. This year I¿ve enjoyed ¿The Thirteenth Tale¿, ¿The Shadow of the Wind¿ and the latest by Jasper Fforde¿all more than I enjoyed this book by Sheridan Hay.The plot elements intrigued me¿a sheltered girl from Tasmania moves to New York following the death of her mother, is drawn to an begins work at a ¿emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade¿, a possible lost then found manuscript of Herman Melville¿s¿And yet¿after the first few chapters¿I found myself drifting off. The pace of the book was too slow, tempting me to skim over parts of the book. The characters of the novel, while colorful, were not very compelling. And at times, the colorful bits just seemed too ¿over the top¿.¿In fact, as I walked behind him, Geist¿s white ears reminded me of delicate sea creatures suddenly exposed to light, vulnerable and nude. There was a shrinking quality to him, a retraction from attention like an instinctual retreat from exposure. I was fascinated and repulsed by equal measure, a contradiction that was never to leave me.¿On one hand, I appreciate the Dickensian creatures that inhabit The Arcade, and I suppose they are all the more mysterious and interesting to a young girl who was discouraged from meeting other people by her mother¿but at the end of the day, I just didn¿t believe in them.I love bookstores. I love the smell of the paper and ink, the smell of dust, the possibility that I will discover a hidden treasure¿I could spend hours in a good bookstore. And yet? Maybe I am too old to be enchanted by a description like this.¿Try to see this place for what it is.¿ ¿And what¿s that, Arthur?¿ ¿Well, a bookstore, but also a reliquary for the bones of strange creatures. Mermaids¿ tails, unicorn horns¿that sort of thing. You¿re looking at natural history in this place.¿There were, however, small treasures to be found in ¿The Secret of Lost Things¿. There are moments of genuine emotion that pour out of two of the characters that have let life pass them by, who mourn for that which never was. A sentence here, a paragraph there drew me back in enough so that I finished the book. (And a small bit of applause for Hay, who seems to think about giving the reader the ending that s/he expects...the one the book has been hinting at all along¿and instead...takes a better route.)And here and there ¿ I find something that reminds me of my love of books.¿No doubt my fondness for the Rare Book Room came in part from a sense of familiarity. It was a version of Foy¿s hat workroom from childhood visits to Sydney. There were no piles of skins, no wall of drawers filled with bric-a-brac, but each old volume amounted to something like the same thing. A book was like a drawer: one opened it and notions flew out.¿In ¿The Secret of Lost Things¿ ¿ the drawer that I opened yielded only bits of sparkle instead of a treasure.