I purchased The Keeper of Lost Things for the purpose of discussing it in a book club, which is something I had never done before. I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book with no clue of what I was getting into. With that, there were certain elements early in this book that concerned me. It had a tone similar to some heavily philosophical books I had to read for my college seminar at the time. It dabbled in philosophy, what we make of life, and tea*. Thankfully, Keeper of Lost Things not only took these elements in a different direction, but had a lot of fun in doing so, making for a stellar novel.
The Keeper of Lost Things follows the story of Laura, caretaker of the deceased Anthony Peardew. Laura discovers a life-long secret of Anthony’s upon his death: He hoarded away anything he found that another person had lost, and tried to find its owner. When Anthony’s will states that he wanted Laura to take ownership of his home and return his lost items, Laura is lost for words. She fears for her inability to fulfill the dreams of a man she loved so much. Thankfully, with the help of a gardener and a girl across the street, Laura overcomes her concerns and takes up the task with them as a trio. With their encouragement, she’ll learn along the way how Anthony’s life and lost things can build confidence in her own life, as well as confront an unhealthy past.
The best part of this book is that it is all-around feel-good. There were very few points in this book when there wasn’t a broad smile on my face as I read it. Sure, it has drama and moments in which the main character is struggling. But Keeper takes the road less travelled by many contemporary best-sellers and avoids leaving the reader gut-wrenchingly downtrodden. Okay, not all novels do that these days, but the majority are out to shock, and leave the reader feeling uneasy. I can only help but feel that Ruth Hogan felt there was too much of this in modern fiction and decided to write this happy-go-lucky book.
Don’t get me wrong, Keeper of Lost Things does deal with grim details like death and the meaning of life, but again, in ways the reader wouldn’t expect. This book places the death of one of its most central characters at the very beginning of story, yet in death this character still leaves a depth of impact on the characters which are still alive. It gives the feeling that the character’s death wasn’t in vain, but breathed a new life into them. The book even makes use of some playful elements in its philosophical musings. The reader is led to believe that a ghost inhabits the house, but in a fun way rather than haunting. Additionally, a lot of the big, heady questions are put in simplistic terms by a character with down syndrome.
One thing this story does much better than others is its handling of a handicapped character. Sunshine, the girl who lives across the street, has a form of down-syndrome. Most stories would use this handicap as nothing more than a crutch, something to invoke an emotional response in the reader. Instead, the handicap is seen more as a happy accident in this case. Sunshine is able to put to terms** much of what Laura can’t as she questions her role in Anthony’s story.
Another cleverly used element the book employs is the telling of a parallel story in another time period. However, the connection between the story of the past and the story of the present aren’t very obvious. There are a few paralleled elements, but the characters are entirely different, almost like reading two books at once. I kept wondering if these were present-day characters under different names, or if a younger present day character would appear and meet these past characters. Miraculously, that never happened. It isn’t until the last few pages that these two stories are brought full circle, and it invokes the greatest emotional response the book could possibly rip from the reader. The second story is also by no means boring, and its vagueness never feels annoying. Usually when a book switches between two different time periods with little to no context I can’t help but grow annoyed as the story chugs through. But here, I never found myself moaning "Oh great, this again" with the other tale. Its characters are just as genuine as the main story, and the struggles they encounter are interesting, not your typical run-of-the-mill conflict. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the two main characters’ relationship is unconventional, and complicated. It carries its own drama simply from its difficulties.
I can do nothing but appreciate this book. It invokes nothing but feel-good-ism and leaves the reader with an encouraging message. So many books these days are out to reach deep within the reader and bring out the worst in humanity, or the most sorrowful. This book reaches within you, but in a good way. As we discussed in my book club, it’s refreshing to read a book of general fiction for once that doesn’t leave you on a down note. Keeper of Lost Things is full of lovable characters on a simple journey that will leave readers appreciating life more. Give it a read for an uplifting tale.
*As a tea drinker, I find it annoying just how often fiction writers these days like to write about tea.
**Sunshine also makes a lot of playful mockery of the 'tea' element seen so often in literature, pointing at just how loudly its used.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; December 2017