The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Laura, reeling from the break-up of her marriage to Vince, goes to work as an assistant to ageing short story author or renown, Anthony Peardew.
“When he had interviewed her all those years ago, he had been a tall, muscular man with a full head of dark hair, tanzanite eyes and a voice like James Mason. She had thought him much younger than his sixty-eight years.” (p6)
Anthony has lived alone since his fiancée Therese died just before their wedding, coinciding with him losing something many years ago.
“He had still been in church on the day that should have been their wedding day. It was the day of Therese’s funeral. And even now, he could almost head her saying that at least his new suit had been put to good use.” (p46)
Since then, his entire life has been devoted, one way or another, to finding the thing he lost again. He collects other peoples’ lost things – carefully labelling and storing them all in his study. These found objects, over the years, have formed the inspirations for his short stories. At first I could picture Jim Broadbent as Anthony, but he is too big and has the wrong voice. Then I thought of Michael Kitchen in nice mode, who does have the voice (and is actually 68).
When he dies, Laura is left Anthony’s collection and house, on condition she tries to re-home the found items. No sooner does Laura move in, than she is adopted by Sunshine, a lovely young woman with Downs syndrome who lives opposite. Laura’s not really sure where to start, but with the help of Anthony’s handsome gardener, and Sunshine, who makes ‘the lovely cup of tea’, we’re all set…
In a parallel story set a couple of decades earlier, Eunice tells how she went to work for a young publisher known as Bomber, who missed the opportunity to publish Anthony. Bomber is adorable, enthusiastic, a dog-lover and devotee of The Great Escape (naming his filing cabinets Tom, Dick and Harry after the tunnels). He has a nasty sister called Portia though, who never hesitates to put Eunice down. Portia writes literary parodies of classic novels and is desperate to be published – Bomber, has to find excuses not to!
Interspersed in the text are some of Anthony’s short stories based on the imagined origins of the found objects: a sky jigsaw piece, a lime-green hair bobble, a cup and saucer found on a park bench. These bittersweet little tales often had a bit of edge and a twist in the tail to them. Written in this novel by an older author, some decades earlier, and thus in a certain style, they had some nice period detail which I enjoyed.
I particularly enjoyed the story of Bomber and Eunice, but unfortunately the main story with Laura was often quite overwritten – cf ‘tanzanite eyes’ in the quote above. (Tanzanite is a cheaper than sapphire blue gemstone – I had to look it up.) Another sentence that stuck out at me was:
‘Sunshine set the needle onto the spinning liquorice disc and was rewarded with the mellifluous tones of Etta James, hot and rich like smoked paprika.’ (p111)
I realise I haven’t mentioned the ghost and Sunshine’s e.s.p. – yes, they are part of Laura’s timeline, but I won’t expound on them much further. The drama in this strand was all small-scale for the most part though. The romance was also inevitable from the off, in spite of fate’s attempts to derail it. I thought this strand rather lacked bite – the spirit was irritating rather than scary. This is not primarily a ghost-story though so that aspect felt a little out of place to me.
Finally, Hogan brings the two time-frames together. It was done neatly, giving a very cozy outcome and closure all around. I would have liked some more found objects and their stories and less ghost. The idea behind the found objects was super and I felt Hogan over-complicated things with the ghost, piling too many ideas into her first novel. An enjoyable read though. (6.5/10)
Source: Publisher via Amazon Vine
Ruth Hogan, The Keeper of Lost Things (Two Roads, Jan 2017) Hardback, 320 pages.