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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Secret of Lost Things

The Secret of Lost Things
by Sheridan Hay
audio book: 11.5 hours

I'm having a hard time reviewing this book simply because I don't get it. What was the POINT of the whole thing?*

I don't usually do this but I'm going to include the comments from Publishers Weekly here because they both summarize the story and point out some of its flaws:
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.
At the start I was very intrigued by Rosemary's story. Her life in Tasmania, her move to New York, her new job at the book shop ... I was caught up in the story and interested to see how things would progress. Unfortunately, things went downhill rather quickly and by the halfway point I was ready to call it quits. I stuck with it in the hopes that the ending would redeem it ... alas, I was wrong.

So what didn't I like about this book? Why thank you for asking - I've got a list to share with you.
  • I didn't identify with Rosemary at all. She was flighty and unsure of herself and completely willing to leave herself in other people's hands. She was needy and lonely and leeched on to certain other characters in a way I found almost unbelievable and definitely annoying. She seemed to never make a decision for herself but would rather do whatever she was told, no matter how it compromised her.
  • Rosemary's love for Oscar, despite his repeated rejection of her, was odd and irritating. What was supposed to be so appealing about this guy anyway?
  • At the center of the story is the search for a missing novel by Herman Melville. I know there are Melville fans out there but so far I'm not a one myself. I couldn't connect with the love of his writing the Rosemary developed, nor with the glowing praise of Moby Dick (which I reviewed here).
  • The various parts of the story didn't seem to connect in any way.
  • And one complaint about the audio book narrator - although she did an excellent job with the Australian accent she simply couldn't do a Spanish accent. Lillian, a character from Argentina, at times sounded French or German but never actually Spanish.
I know many of you loved this book and I read it with high hopes. I'm sorry to say that simply didn't live up to them.

*I asked the same question, albeit not so forcefully, about OSCAR WAO. After hearing the author speak, I understood the point of that book better. Maybe if I had the chance to hear Sheridan Hay discuss her book I might understand HER book better as well. Has anyone heard her? Did it add to your appreciation of the book?


bermudaonion said...

Sorry this one didn't work for you. It's disappointing to spend that much of your time on something and not have it turn out worthwhile.

Ti said...

Sometimes I surprise myself with what I like or don't like but it's hard to justify the time spent on a novel that is just... meh. For that reason I usually toss the book after 50 pages if it isn't doing it for me.

I did not do that with Guernsey because I was reading it during read-a-thon and everyone and I mean EVERYONE told me to keep reading and I ended up pretty frustrated over the time lost reading it.

Heather J. said...

bermudaonion - yes, I agree completely.

Ti - If I had been READING it, I likely would have tossed it, but as I was listening in the car it just helped pass the time. I really should have found something better though.

softdrink said...

Sorry, I can't help you, because I didn't care for this one either. It just fell flat.

Bybee said...

Someone gave this to me, but I haven't read it yet.

Heather J. said...

softdrink - yeah, me too.

bybee - maybe you'll enjoy it, who knows?!

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