Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things was bought for me by my lovely dad. He’s never bought me a book before so this is quite special, and I can see why he thought I’d like it. Not only does it have a pretty cover but it’s about people and their life stories, told through objects of special significance. My dad and I are both interested in people – we’re restaurant eavesdroppers, we take a (hopefully discreet) interest in couples arguing in the street, we’re curious about what people display proudly and what they hide, what they throw away and what they keep. And so it stands to reason that a book about things lost and found would appeal to us both.
Widowed writer Anthony Peardew has spent most of his life collecting other people’s lost objects. Haunted by something precious he once lost, he sets about cataloguing the lost items in the hopes of one day restoring them to their rightful owners and maybe mending a few broken hearts in the process. Now he is in failing health, and so enlists the help of his friend and housekeeper Laura with what has become a truly mammoth task. As she tries to carry out her old friend’s final wishes, Laura begins to recover a few things she thought she’d lost in her own life and makes new connections along the way…
This was a book of two halves for me. I loved the way it delves into the world of the people who’ve lost things, giving us a fascinating snapshot of their lives at the moment of the loss. It’s an omniscient, x-ray kind of eavesdropping! On the other hand, I found the supernatural element a little superfluous and overdone. Unless you’re creating a magical Harry Potter-esque alternate reality, supernatural stuff in books often seems to me to be a bit of a lazy plot device. But that’s just my grumpy old opinion!
I also wasn’t crazy about the relationship that develops between Laura and handsome gardener Freddy. OK, this book is basically quirky chick lit and to be fair it doesn’t pretend to be anything else – but I think it’s time we dispensed with the idea that it’s romantic or appetising when a man who is just a friend goes mental when you go on a date with another man and treats you unpleasantly because of it. Not only does Laura go along with this and accept that it’s somehow her fault for letting him get the wrong end of the stick, but the author implicitly goes along with it as well. Freddy is the fabulous hero and this is just proof of his strong feelings. It’s time we regarded this stuff as dickhead behaviour and stop romanticising the fragile male ego.
On the other hand, I enjoyed Laura’s friendship with Sunshine, the local teenager with Down’s syndrome who befriends her after Anthony’s funeral. Sunshine is a true original, and her unique take on life, the afterlife, human relationships and the English language was the highlight of the book for me. She has a gift for the task in hand, that of reuniting lost objects with owners who want them back (and indeed knowing what is best left alone). She brings forth both the funniest and most poignant moments in the book and elevates it above what it might become with just Laura at the helm.
Sunshine isn’t the only strong character in the book, of course. It is filled with fascinating portraits of other people’s worlds, their pain, their unexpected loves and moments of serendipity. And actually, though the spooky happenings in the book sometimes jarred me along the way, they helped the book build to a crescendo that was actually very sweet and human, and both funny and life-affirming. All’s well that ends well, eh?