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Like Ishmael, Rosemary finds her own albino, store manager Walter Geist: "I had the fleeting fantasy that this man was what someone would look like if they'd been born inside the Arcade, never having left its dim confines. Pigment would disappear and eyesight would be ruined beneath the weak light, until one lay passively like a flounder on the ocean floor. Her other co-workers, as diverse as Ishmael's crewmates, include the unattainable Oscar Jarno, a dressmaker's son whose expertise is non-fiction and fabric, a font of knowledge who scribbles notes of his wide-ranging research in an ever-present notebook; Rosemary considers him her counterpart.


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There's Arthur Pick, an Englishman who's in charge of the art section; Bruno Gurvich, a Ukrainian, and Jack Conway, an Irishman, who sort the paperbacks, considered the least of the books in the overstuffed store; and the courtly overseer of the rare-book room, Robert Mitchell, whom Rosemary regards as the father she never knew.

Pearl Baird, the store's transsexual cashier who longs to become an opera singer, becomes one of Rosemary's two close friends. The other is Lillian La Paco, an Argentinian who is a desk clerk at the women's hotel where Rosemary stays and who carries her own heavy burden of loss.

The women help Rosemary through her roughest patches and give her someone to worry about, in lieu of blood relations. Rosemary soon becomes entwined in literary intrigue involving a manuscript of Herman Melville's lost and thus quite valuable novel, The Isle of the Cross.

Much is to be gained for those involved, and much stands to be lost, too. Hay's characters and places, from a hat shop in Tasmania to the overstuffed bookstore in New York that calls to mind the Strand, are finely and fully rendered. Like any great bookstore, this is a novel the reader doesn't want to leave. Hay brings a universe-in-a-book to life for the reader in this novel of loss and freedom, and the juncture of the two.

Continuing our celebration of PopMatters' 20th anniversary, we revisit our 10 picks for the best debut albums of It turns out our selections were prescient as many of these artists have gone on to storied careers. Travel back to and see them again for the first time. PopMatters turns 20 years old this October and we're beginning to celebrate our history by taking you back in time a decade ago. Obama was in the White House and the musical times were very good indeed. Revisit through its best albums.

If I start with my own beginning you will understand how I came to the Arcade, and how it came to mean so much to me.


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  • Upon her arrival in New York, Rosemary stumbles across the Arcade and lands a job. The Arcade reminded me immediately of The Strand.

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    The characters who work at the Arcade are bookish types, more comfortable with the dusty tomes they sell than with each other. Each of them guards their little book store nook like jealous lovers.

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    In retrospect she remarks:. The Secret of Lost Things is a coming of age story. I just wanted to say how great your blog looks.

    I love the pull quotes, and the photos. Nice work! I kept the only photograph I had of her, taken before I was born. My whole life up until her death had been the dream, and this reality—the one without Mother, the one where every object I thought mine was either sold or returned, where every thing familiar to me disappeared—had waited, hidden behind all I loved. Suppliers were kind but businesslike. Only the girls at Foys sent a condolence card. I sold off the furniture and the contents of the flat, but after settling accounts, there was little money left. Chaps moved me into her spare bedroom and encouraged me to rest.

    As my mania subsided, stupor took its place. Chaps urged me to come into her bookstore, where I had worked before, usually stocktaking, during school holidays. I know you will. To escape. Esther Chapman took very seriously the opportunity to advise me. Chaps was stoic, and that helped. Her father—an Anzac, as it happens—had been killed in the Great War. They were oddities, marginal and not exactly respectable. For her part, Chaps was too well read to be considered entirely proper. Books had made her unreasonably independent. Judging by photographs in her neat house, with age, Chaps resembled her own mother.

    Both had pigeon-breasted bodies, small gray heads, large light eyes full of candor. Black-and-white, it had been taken when she was around eighteen, my age exactly at the time, but taken by whom I would never know.

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    Her youthful face looked out at me vivid with the secrets of her past, her future, and, I fancied, more alive than I was in that same unformed moment. The orange, red, and yellow heads worked against melancholy; their unopened leaves, like little green tongues, reproached me. I knelt down to inspect a large, open leaf, an almost perfect circle.

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    A silver drop of water balanced on its surface, shiny as a ball of mercury. Carefully, I picked the leaf and spun the bead of water inside its green world—a tiny ball of order, isolated and contained. Focusing on the drop relieved an increment of anguish, about the same size, near my heart.

    Chaps arrived home early from the shop. I heard her fussing with the kettle, making tea in the kitchen. She called through the little house. What are you doing on your knees? Perhaps she considered a talk about the maudlin nature of my attachment to the Huon box, but let it go. She sat down on a wrought-iron chair, after laying the tray on the matching table. She sat up straighter, filled with the drama of surprise.

    She hesitated, then took a deep breath. An airplane ticket. I want no argument about it—I had the money saved.

    The Secret of Lost Things

    I had no money for school. I had no means to travel. I had nothing, so far as I could see, but her affection for me, a box of ashes, and a black-and-white photograph of someone I had loved more than life. I had that new, hurtling feeling again, the rapid and unpredictable movement of events coming toward me, like getting into a car after a lifetime spent walking. She was awkward with affectionate gestures. Her voice remained firm. I never carried one. The best is not past. You can mend it by living it, by living a different life than either you or your mother imagined.

    I had, but I was afraid. I want to discover things, to know things.

    The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay - Review | | BookPage

    And that was easy because of your scrapbook, all those pictures of New York, of cities. I thought you must have always intended to go there, making a fetish of the place, collecting up clippings and things since you were small. You must go abroad! Her filmy gray eyes locked on mine. Chaps could be fierce. The chance to really make a break, to leave and not look back.