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BOOK REVIEW: The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay


Having recently lost her mother, eighteen-year-old Rosemary leaves her home in Tasmania and travels to New York City to start her life. Possessing little more than $300, her love of books and her mother’s ashes, she sets out to explore the city she’s dreamed of for years. During her wanderings, she stumbles upon the Arcade bookstore and in a moment of unusually forward behaviour, begs for a job.

Thus begins her life among the bookstore’s eccentric denizens: Mr. Pike, the gruff owner who refers to himself in the third person; Oscar, the emotionally unavailable nonfiction specialist; Arthur, the art specialist who loves nude photos; Walter, the albino store manager; and Pearl, the motherly pre-operative transsexual. As Rosemary finds her way around both New York City and the Arcade, she discovers new authors and a love of Herman Melville. When she unknowingly becomes involved in an internal power struggle over an unpublished Melville novel, her new life threatens to disintegrate and she is left to choose sides.

Billed as a literary mystery but more a coming of age story, Sheridan Hay’s debut novel The Secret of Lost Things is a loving tribute both to Herman Melville and discovering one’s place in the world. In an interview at Backstory, Hay admits that this novel contains many autobiographical details. Hay worked at the famed Strand bookstore when she first arrived in New York City from Australia and she met many old, strange booksellers in the city’s bookstores. While pursuing her MFA she became fascinated with Melville’s work and came across the story of the missing novel. “When I learned that he’d written a novel that was lost, The Isle of the Cross, and read his letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville insisted himself into my bookstore narrative.”

The Secret of Lost Things moves at a languid pace, appropriate as the action takes place inside the characters. In Hay’s novel, the search for the lost manuscript is secondary to the knowledge the search brings. Each character must lose something if they wish to gain something they perceive as being of greater value. Whether the bargains are good is left for readers to decide.

ISBN10: 030727733X
ISBN13: 9780307277336

Trade Paperback
354 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: March 11, 2008
Author Website:


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