FREE Express Shipping for Club Members
Not a member? Join Today!
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 45.
- Review Date: 2006-12-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Hay's debut has all the elements of a literary thriller, but they don't quite come together. Arriving in New York from Tasmania with $300, her mother's ashes and a love of reading, 18-year-old Rosemary Savage finds work in the Arcade Bookshop, a huge, labyrinthine place that features everything from overstock to rare books. In its physicality, the store greatly resembles New York's Strand (where Hay worked), and its requisite assortment of intriguing bookish oddballs includes autocratic owner George Pike and his albino assistant, Walter Geist. Rosemary is suspicious and worried when Walter enlists Rosemary's help to respond to an anonymous request to sell a hand-written version of Herman Melville's lost Isle of the Cross (a novel that in fact existed but disappeared after Melville's publisher rejected it). She confides in Oscar (the attractive, emotionally unavailable nonfiction specialist), which only hastens the deal's momentum toward disaster. Hay does a good job with innocent, intelligent Rosemary's attempts to deal with sinister doings, and methodically imagines the evolution and content of Melville's novel (which features a woman abandoned much like Rosemary's mother). Hay also ably captures Rosemary's nostalgic memories of Tasmania. The three narratives—intrigue, Melville, Tasmania—prove so different, however, that recurring themes of loss and abandonment fail to tie them together. (Mar.)
An innocent abroad
First-time novelist Sheridan Hay gets off to a promising start with The Secret of Lost Things, a coming-of-age story set in a New York City bookshop that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Strand (where native Australian Hay was once employed).
Rosemary Savage has led a sheltered life in a small Tasmanian town, but when her mother dies suddenly, the 18-year-old is left orphaned. With the encouragement of her mother's best friend, Rosemary leaves for New York with only $300 in her pocket in search of a new beginning. She thinks she's found one after being hired at the Arcade, where she works with a number of colorful characters, including blind, albino assistant manager Walter Geist, dapper and attractive Oscar and transsexual cashier Pearl. The idealistic and lonely Rosemary soon befriends Pearl and fixates on the supremely uninterested Oscar as a romantic prospect, but even after becoming Walter's assistant, she still can't straighten out her feelings about him. But Walter is as attracted to Rosemary as she is to Oscar, and this odd triangle propels the mystery portion of the novel, which centers on a lost Herman Melville manuscript that Walter appears to have located. Seeking to win Oscar's favor, Rosemary tells him Walter's secret, and Oscar's quest to secure the manuscript culminates in a tragic night that affects all of the Arcade's employees.
Rosemary's journey from naïveté to self-knowledge is realistically portrayed and compelling, as are Hay's loving depictions of 1980s-era New York City and the wonder of a young girl discovering it for the first time. However, The Secret of Lost Things never quite finds its way when it comes to the mystery plotsomehow the quieter chronicle of Rosemary's personal growth and rewarding relationships with Pearl and another mother-figure, a surly motel clerk, is far more gripping. Still, this is a solid first effort, and one that fans of thoughtful, book-centered novels won't want to miss.