The Keeper of Lost Things (by Ruth Hogan)

I had not heard of Ruth Hogan, and am not, in general, a fan of ‘literary fiction’. I’m not entirely sure what that even means, other than books which don’t fit neatly into any other genre. But the title ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ had popped up several times in Amazon’s recommendations and elsewhere. So when I spotted a copy inexpensively in a church book sale, it wasn’t a difficult decision to buy it.

What a delight this book turned out to be!

It’s really two stories, taking place in different time frames, although they eventually converge. The main story involves, at first, the elderly Anthony Peardew. He is a retired writer, and a collector of items which he picked up in the street, or the park, or anywhere he spotted something that could have been lost. They are mostly small items: hair bobbles, gloves, an umbrella, a button, and thousands more items. He has labelled them all meticulously, and would love to return at least some of them to their owners. But he has no idea how to go about it.

Anthony’s work is taken up by Laura, whom we first meet working as his assistant. She befriends Sunshine, a delightful girl with Down Syndrome (or, as she calls it, ‘Dancing Drome’) who lives nearby, and Freddy, who is the gardener. Gradually Laura works out a strategy for letting people know about the lost items, aided by her friends. But there’s a disturbing presence in the house… a lost soul, searching for something. It takes Sunshine’s intuition to work out what that might be.

The other storyline starts in the 1970s, when a young woman called Eunice goes to work for a publisher called Bomber. He has a relaxed, somewhat bohemian style, and a dog; he and Eunice get along very well. The connection between their story and Anthony’s is made clear fairly early in the book, but it’s not until the end that everything is neatly resolved, after two of the people concerned finally meet.

The writing is beautifully done, the main characters three-dimensional and believable. There are some caricatures too - Bomber’s dreadful sister Portia, for instance, and Laura’s unpleasant ex-husband. But I became very fond of Sunshine; her misuse of some words and lack of understanding of some cliches made me smile several times. That was not in a derogatory way at all; instead, seeing how her way of looking at life was, in many ways, healthier and far more constructive than her more complex friends.

Interspersed with the main plots there are several short stories, written in italics, which refer to some of the ‘lost things’ with explanations about why they were lost. It’s not clear until much later in the book whether these are intended to be the ‘real’ reasons the items were lost, or some of Anthony’s short stories.

There are gentle love stories in this book: one tragically cut short, one that is entirely one-sided, and one which is eventually fulfilled. There are a couple of threads about growing old, and living with dementia. There is even a ghost, or at least a searching spirit, related to one of the love stories. But underlying everything there is friendship, warmth and encouragement.

This gentle kind of novel is not everyone’s ‘lovely cup of tea’ (as Sunshine would put it) but I enjoyed it very much. When I was about two-thirds of the way through I could barely put it down - and then was sorry when it ended. Perhaps the conclusion is a tad too well-organised for reality - but then the whole ghost story lifts it somewhat out of reality anyway, even though it’s very pragmatically done.

Highly recommended.

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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