I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. The premise sounded so promising - a coming of age story, a lost manuscript, a large used bookstore, a Melville tie-in. I love literary stories, and there is some beautiful language here, but it wasn't enough to make it 3 stars for me. In fact, if this hadn't been an audiobook, it might have been a DNF. The characters were outrageously quirky - not a normal person in the bunch - and had such promise, but they were not developed enough to make me care about them. The plot ultimately went nowhere, with lots of loose ends. It didn't really work for me as a coming of age story - did the main character grow and change during the year the book takes place? Did the lost girl find herself? Nor did it work as a literary mystery. Some of the characters were creepy, but there wasn't much in the way of suspense.
The book might work as an exploration of lostness. I'm just not sure anything was found by the end of it. Rosemary is lost and alone when she arrives in New York City. She strikes up a friendship with Lillian, an Argentinian woman whose son was "disappeared." At the book store, she finds another friend, Pearl, a black wanna-be opera singer transexual. And then there is Walter Geist, an albino losing his eyesight, and probably his mind. A second theme explored is obsession and its consequences. That's where Melville and the manuscript come in. Geist seems to represent both Moby Dick and Ahab, with his obsession for both the manuscript and Rosemary. Rosemary develops a crush on Oscar, a handsome but emotionally unavailable coworker who is also obsessed with finding the manuscript. Lillian, of course, is obsessed with the need to find her son, or at least find out what happened to him. Sex and sexuality might be a third theme - the naive Rosemary, the lonely and repressed Walter Geist, the asexual Oscar, and the delightful transexual Pearl, who might be my favorite character. In her own way, she comes across as the only one who isn't lost. She's real and honest.
This isn't a bad debut novel. I would read a second book about Rosemary, hoping for the further development of some of the characters, and answers to some of the loose threads. Sheridan Hay definitely has potential.
Description: Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.