This book appealed to me because of my memories of Hall’s, an antiquarian bookshop in Tunbridge Wells, once worked in by both my mother-in-law and a friend. The bookshop in the book is called the Arcade, and it is situated in New York, where our female protagonist arrives at the tender age of 18 and finds employment. Essentially a coming of age sort of novel, The Secret of Lost Things introduces Rosemary Savage around the time of the death of her mother. Inheriting debts and little else, Rosemary is saved by a fairy godmother of sorts, who buys her a ticket to New York, setting her loose in the grown-up world.
Written in the first person, one can quickly find Rosemary’s naivete endearing, and appreciate her sensibilities. As captivating as it is to see a 1970s New York through the eyes of a lonely and innocent Tasmanian, the plot becomes too blatant and too ‘Hollywood’ to maintain the romantic and sensitive perspective of the protagonist.
The mismatched plot and style notwithstanding, one thing I adored about the book was the way it described the appeal and purpose of the notebook. One of the bookshop employees consistently chronicles and records information and observations, almost to the exclusion of living – something that Rosemary attempts to imitate thinking she will become knowledgable and intelligent.
Though ultimately disappointing, the book evokes a pensive and exploratory tone and is suggestive of how open our eyes can be when faced with the new.