The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

A delightful, funny, clever novel that reminded me at times of reading Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie. Certainly if you’ve read that novel, you’ll enjoy the characters in this book.

Anthony Peardew is a man who has suffered a great loss and he is also a man who obsessively collects, labels and keeps things he’s found on his wanderings, noting where he was, what time and anything else of note about the thing he has found. It is a kind of antidote to the two precious things he has lost. But there remains unfinished business, which is where the kind and unsuspecting Laura comes in.

The novel opens with an extraordinary first paragraph in which Anthony is travelling on a train towards Brighton, when an abandoned biscuit tin on the seat opposite him is teetering on the edge of the seat, and at the moment it is about to topple he catches it.

‘Lifting the lid, he inspected the contents, a pale grey substance the texture of coarse-grained sand.’

Laura works for Andrew, typing up his short stories, keeping his house tidy, arranging the cut roses from his garden, allowing him to stay locked away in his study with his work and whatever else is in there, for it is the only room in the house Laura has never been in.

We also meet Freddy the gardener and Sunshine the 19 year old neighbour who befriends Laura at an important time in her life. And Carrot, the lost dog that joins them.

Simultaneously, as we follow their story, time turns back and alternate chapters reveal Eunice’s story, on an auspicious day – a day whose importance is revealed as the book comes to an end – Eunice is being interviewed for a job at a publishers, run by Bomber, a man who as soon as she meets, she adores and knows she is destined to work for and be content with. Bomber has in insufferable sister Portia, who each year presents her brother with another tedious manuscript he refuses to publish.

As each of the lost items is mentioned, there follows a very short story which contains the lost item, these stories are written in italics, they are all captivating in their own right, and the reader wonders if these have sparked the imagination of our Keeper of Lost Things and are what he publishes. It is a novel packed full of intrigues.

Anthony’s fingers traced the edges of the jigsaw piece in the palm of his hand and he wondered whose life it had once been a tiny part of. Or perhaps not so tiny. Perhaps its loss had been disproportionately disastrous to its size, causing tears to flow, tempers to flare or hearts to break. So it had been with Anthony and the thing he had lost so long ago.

Most intriguing of all are the strange unaccountable happenings in the house, the gramophone that plays the tune in the middle of the night, the scent of roses in the house, the bedroom door locked from the inside, the clock that always stops at 12.55 Is it the haunting presence of Therese, the woman Anthony was to marry? What does she want? What is she trying to tell them?

Ruth Hogan is a natural storyteller, with an adept eye for catching nuances of character and a sense of humour that delights and entertains and provides for a reading experience that is the perfect alternative to the romantic comedy of the screen. It could even be said to be something of a cosy mystery, I mean the contents of that biscuit tin, while not of someone murdered, are suspected to be that of a ‘somebody’ and Laura the sleuth with Sunshine her sidekick make a delightful pair in their attempt to solve the mystery.

This morning I read an article by Jenni Ogden, neuropsychologist and author of A Drop in the Ocean, in Psychology Today entitled Why Do Many of Us Like Quiet Novels?, where she talks about the benefit of reading stories that:

gently meander along, taking time to savour the small, quiet moments of simply living, the often small cast of characters in the story taking their time to get to know the others in their lives and to learn more about themselves

She recommends it not just for pleasure, but for our mental and physical health. She mentions the titles below and to her collection, I would add Keeper of Lost Things and the books of Antoine Laurain The Red Notebook and The President’s Hat.

 ‘One True Thing’ by Anna Quindlen,

her memoir ‘Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake’,

‘Crossing to Safety’ by Wallace Stegner,

‘Stoner’ by John Williams,

‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver,

‘Salvage the Bones’ by Jesmyn Ward

Do you have any favourite ‘quiet’ books or authors you turn to, when you need something a little gentler, more uplifting for the soul?

To Buy a Copy of any of these novels via Book Depository Click Here

 

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33 thoughts on “The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

  1. Good to read this charming review, Claire: I have The Keeper of Lost Things and plan to read it soon. I’m also very interested in the Ogden article: I agree with her wholeheartedly. I’ve never tried putting into words the pleasures and benefits of quiet novels and Jenni has captured that exactly.

    One surprise on her list of recommendations: The Poisonwood Bible! This book is cropping up so often for me at the moment. I’ve never read it, always felt the need to avoid it, never really understood why. I’ve certainly never thought of it as a quiet novel. Thinking of it as such may perhaps – finally – be my way in!

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  2. I never thought about a ‘quiet’ novel…hmmm. One book I did enjoy reading before bedtime was Extinctions by Australian writer Josephine Wilson. The isolated grumpy widower Fred is slowly drawn out of his shell by an effervescent neighbor Jan. Heartwarming.

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    • Sounds like the perfect example of a ‘quiet’ novel. If the effect was heartwarming, then I’d say it fits the description. They have a therapeutic effect. May even help one to sleep, most books do that for me! Reading is bliss.

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  3. I loved this book, whereas I wholeheartedly dislike Joanna Cannon’s work. This is, I know, a minority point of view. But I find Hogan much more sensitive, more attuned to the quirks which make us human. It’s easily eighteen months ago that I read it (I was lucky enough to see a proof copy) and I find I remember it still.

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  4. I love that you’ve written about this in your post here, because I’ve been going through a phase of reading quiet novels. I’ve always loved them. I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is probably the quintessential quiet novel, and I read Ann McDermott’s Someone that reminded me a lot of ATGiB not too long ago. Mary Lawson also wrote two quiet, slow-burning novels that I read in college and loved, not so much for the stories themselves but for Lawson’s command of language. Actually, quiet novels by women writers in general are my soul books, but I did read Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf recently as well, and that was also a superbly told quiet novel. I also read these books at night. I find them soothing. Though, at the moment I’m reading The Handmaid’s Tale which is wonderfully written but may become less soothing the further I get into the book, of course. I enjoyed reading your review! I think I used to read it when I was in college before I took my big blogging break, so I’m glad to have re-discovered it!

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    • Oh thank you for your recommendations, I hadn’t heard of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I see it’s been read by many. I have Someone by Alice McDermott on my shelf, so I’m putting that next to a second hand copy of Stoner I picked up – quiet novels I have that I wasn’t aware of! I have Kent Haruf’s trilogy to read and I bought Our Souls at Night for my father which he returned after reading, I could tell that was going to be a special unique read. It is a good feeling to know they are there waiting and to have a list of ready recommendations.

      Thank you for your enriching comment and return! I look forward to sharing more thoughts on books with you and following your reading and artful experiences too!

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  5. Hi, thanks for the review and recommendation, just my kettle of fish. I frequently find myself using the phrase ‘a quiet book’ in my reviews. Would highly recommend Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and anything, anything by Anne Tyler.

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    • Oh yes, Olive Kitteridge, I read that prior to beginning to write about books I’d read, but on the strength of that memory I’ve read more of Elizabeth Strout, two of them this year in fact, My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, given they feature connected characters, how could I not. Strout has a gift for portraying characters in a very compelling way, especially her female characters. I read Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, which I found just okay, but given all I had heard of her, I picked up Ladder of Years which I thought was excellent. Do you have a favourite Tyler novel?

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  6. I’m another big fan of quiet books – something that I have grown into in recent years I think. Loved this one, especially the opening, although I would have liked the presentation of Sunshine to have been a bit more subtle and nuanced.

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    • Sunshine has featured as a favourite character in a lot of the reviews I have read, I thought she was an interesting character and given some unusual talents. I would say there was a slight hesitancy to the authors depictions of Sunshine and Bomber, as if she were treading lightly there, just a sense I had, with Bomber, it was if we had to be told, rather than his actions as a character revealing more about him.

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      • Yes, I agree. The inclusion of both characters definitely added texture to the overall story. But a ‘hesitancy’ is the perfect way to describe my misgivings 🙂

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  7. I struggled with Three Things About Elsie and have been avoiding this one for the same reasons. But I’m certainly a fan of a ‘quiet’ book. Ann Patchett usually works this way for me, as does nature writing like Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines.

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    • Ann Patchett is a writer whose essays and nonfiction I like, but whose novels I have never bonded with. Kathleen Jamie however is in a different league and nature writing another form of the quiet novel that I too love, although it doesn’t have the uplifting, humorous quality of some of these lighter novels mentioned. Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind is my all time favourite book of the depiction of nature and Annie Dillard another whose prose sings off the page. One I do need to explore more as I come across her often is Mary Oliver, I’m sure I’m one of the last to discover her exquisite poetry.

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  8. Oh this sounds absolutely delightful. I really can’t buy books at the moment but it sounds like one to put on my every growing wishlist. I also think my sister would love it, and I occasionally like surprising her with gifts.

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  9. Now I’m extra keen to get round to reading The Keeper of Lost Things, it’s been on my shelves for a while now! Crossing to Safety and Mary Lawson’s books (as mentioned by wrenmbrock) are lovely books. I like to vary my reading and like ‘quiet’ books intermixed with more ‘dramatic’ books.

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  10. Pingback: Six Degrees of Separation: from The Poisonwood Bible to … – A Corner of Cornwall

  11. It’s a lovely review, Claire – I was able to suspend my disbelief… it had more than a whiff of magic realism about it, I thought. I’m now looking forward to read her latest offering – The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes…

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  12. I love this notion of “the quiet novel” and its benefits. Last week I was reading from Ursula K. Le Guin Conversations on Writing with David Naimon, and there was a section in which Le Guin spoke about the overemphasis on conflict being the main catalyst for movement in stories [novels] and in life. Thank you for adding more food-for-thought – as well as book recommendations that I can approach with these ideas in mind😊.

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  13. Thank you for the suggestions! I’d planned to read Keeper of Lost Things (the concept is so fascinating), but I hadn’t considered the benefits of a quieter novel! It might well be wise to alternate between the more intense and quieter novels so that we appreciate both better.

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  14. I suppose if I thought about it, Maeve Binchy’s books would qualify as quiet (albeit busy) reads. Busy because they are sometimes heavily populated and dramatic things do happen…but the style has the effect of making me feel like I’m eating comfort food while wrapped up in a warm blanket, sitting in a rocking chair. LOL. I exaggerate but her books, I find, even when bad things happen have an almost gentle effect. This was the first author/books that came to mind, though I’m sure with more thought there are others (Edward P. Jones’ The Known World, for instance, though it deals with the violences of slavery, feels quiet…sometimes an angry quiet like a low rumbling voice but still, quiet, for the most part though it takes on a certain urgency in parts).

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  15. I now have ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ on my quiet reading list. Thank you. Anne Tyler, yes, her books are often quiet books and I love them. I can see why so may wouldn’t put ‘The Poisonwood Bible ‘ in any sort of quiet category; it is such a terrible story but so beautifully told. I suppose I was thinking of quiet for this and for ‘Salvage The Bones’ as quiet in the sense that at their heart they are about the values we cherish: love, family, respect, this is how I recall them, not as books about horror but stories that teach us in a quiet, dramatic way why these values are so important. Those lovely quiet books—Anne Tyler, Ann of Green Gables! Anna Quindlen— that we never want to stop, the ones we read in bed, by the fire, or lying in the sun on a deserted beach, they too espouse these values, but on the other side of the human coin. Yet for me they all take me inside the characters so quietly that I hardly knew I was going there.

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