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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A Drop in the Ocean by Jenni Ogden

Book covers can be so hit and miss, but every so often one comes along that is so attractive you find yourself eagerly hoping that it’s a book that you’re going to love. And this one did not disappoint.

I started seeing this book mentioned on Goodreads and Twitter and when Jenni commented on one of my blog posts I visited her website and spent an evening looking at the pictures, reading her newsletters, learning a little about this remarkable woman who grew up in the South Island, New Zealand, became a neuropsychologist and now lives between two small islands in New Zealand and Australia.

DROP IN THE OCEAN3Jenni Ogden’s debut novel A Drop in the Ocean centres around Anna Fergusson, a 49-year-old woman not anticipating change in her life, whose controlled, familiar world is upended when her long-term research grant is casually rejected, throwing her into early retirement and the four scientists in her team into the harsh reality of insecure tenure.

The research I had been doing for the past twenty-four years – first for my PhD, then as a research assistant, and finally as the leader of the team – focused on various aspects of Huntington’s disease, a terrible genetically transmitted disorder that targets half the children of every parent who has the illness.

Although she had spent all these years studying and researching the disease, she had avoided dealing with the families, peering down a microscope rather than into the eyes of sufferers, making using of the team to carry out the fieldwork.

When the opportunity to spend a year on a tropical island in Australia was presented to her by a friend, she was initially dismissive, until the idea of finishing her latest paper and perhaps writing a book prompted her to reply to the advertisement.

For rent to a single or couple who want to escape to a tropical paradise. Basic cabin on tiny coral island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. AUD$250 a week; must agree to stay one year and look after small private campsite (five tents maximum). Starting date October 2008. For more information email lazylad at yahoo.com.au

Coral Cay Australia

The island was an eight hectare coral cay surrounded by a large coral reef, with few inhabitants, accessible by fishing boat or charter, only solar power and supplies brought in fortnightly.

Named Turtle Island, one of the locals was a ‘turtle whisperer’ named Tom, a researcher who tagged turtles, participated in turtle rodeos and kept pretty much to himself when not at sea with the graceful creatures.

While Anna planned to spend her days working on her memoir, the allure of the activity of the island and Tom made her restless, she became curious about him and the fieldwork he was doing. While part of her resisted the attraction, her instinct was stronger, pushing her out of the cottage and into his realm.

The novel places Anna and Tom on the same island where we observe their relationship develop, how they challenge aspects of each other, their relationship a conduit to them seeing themselves more clearly.

The novel is written in a familiar, comfortable style, Ogden’s sense of place is so strong, you will feel as though you are on the island with them all, seeing everything around you, anticipating the developments between characters, taking part in the daily activities and monitoring of the turtle season, witnessing their vulnerability to the elements.

The main characters are fully realised and brilliantly captured, Anna always in control, somewhat detached from people in her life and living far from her own family, has to let go to become close to Tom and through him will learn more about her own research and person than all her years of dedication and hard work had achieved.

A Drop in the Ocean is the perfect summer read, the quiet, shocking dilemma of losing a grant and the job that went with it, the flippant fantasy of leaving everything familiar for a tropical island and the reality of making a life and finding love, it’s engaging, thought-provoking, heartfelt and sun-filled. Highly recommended!