I give a book forty pages to grab me. If after forty pages I’m bored, uninterested, or annoyed, I stop and start a different book. There are way too many good books in the world to spend my time on bad ones. For Sheridan Hay’s debut novel, The Secret of Lost Things, I struggled to get past page forty.
The Secret of Lost Things had been touted as being like Martha Cooley’s debut novel, The Archivist. I loved The Archivist and the way Cooley weaved the life of T. S. Eliot, and the letters he wrote to Emily Hale, to that of the archivist and the grad student trying to read the Emily Hale letters (which, as you all probably know, are sealed at Princeton University to be opened in 2020). Since there were comparisons between the two novels, I had high hopes for The Secret of Lost Things.
This brings me back to my forty-page conundrum. I was bored and wanted to stop by page forty. Sheridan Hay can thank the reviewers who claimed this book was The Archivist incarnate for getting me past page forty, because it certainly wasn’t the slow-moving story.
The Secret of Lost Things begins in Tasmania where eighteen-year-old Rosemary Savage’s mother has died. Left with little money and no friends, Rosemary flies to New York to start a new life. She finds work in the Arcade bookstore, a huge, all-encompassing bookstore with everything from the latest paperbacks to rare books and odd collectors. An eccentric group of employees mans the bookstore, including an outspoken, pre-op transsexual, a chubby man who plays with himself while looking at nude photographs in the art section, and a lonely, albino store manager.
But you wouldn’t know most of that by page forty. The story moves slowly, which is unfortunate, because by the middle of the novel, where the manager asks Rosemary for help with a secret manuscript, I started enjoying it a little bit. I say only “a little bit,” because the novel is trying to be a literary thriller of sorts, but the information Rosemary finds about the manuscript anyone could find if you grab a biography of Herman Melville. There wasn’t really any suspense, mystery, or thrill in finding out about the manuscript, and the attempts at suspense with the creepy manager and his plans for the manuscript don’t quite cut it either.
As Rosemary researches and learns about the woman in Melville’s lost manuscript, it’s clear that Sheridan was also trying to do what Cooley did with The Archivist, where long-dead authors lives and works are intertwined with main characters, but it also falls flat. The Secret of Lost Things picks up with the lost manuscript, but it’s a little too late and it just doesn’t pull together. Go read The Archivist instead.