Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This novel is heart-warmingly British through and through, laden with tangible descriptions that transport the reader to a simpler time when gramophones and silver tea trays and rose gardens were the norm; and all this without ever really taking us out of the twenty-first century. It’s a book about dealing with loss in a typically English way of saying how you feel by not really saying how you feel.
Anthony and Laura are two such characters whose relationship perfectly encapsulates the sense of Britishness which is stamped all over this novel. They are both old souls and have both lost their way in the world. Their relationship itself is founded on a mutual respect for honouring privacy, meaning that it’s a very quiet relationship; not particularly vocal, but a kind of unspoken understanding that permeates the written word on the page.
I love the use of space in the novel, particularly the refuge that is Padua. While it primarily functions as a home, Padua is also a safe space for people who don’t quite fit in with the outside world or who have forgotten how to function in it. It’s a haven for many of the characters, allowing them to heal away from village gossip and prying eyes, but it’s also a form of exile from society. There is no denying that this is a tale of outcasts: a reclusive widowed writer, two divorcees, a young person with learning difficulties, and a mistreated dog. There is something about this story that harkens back to an old kind of sentimentality that is sadly not as prevalent today; the idea of adults befriending children without intentions being misconstrued; friendships between the older and younger generations. Padua almost provides these characters with a self-sustaining micro-universe which allows them to live peacefully on their own terms away from the rest of the world. Not only does Padua contain several outcasts, but it also houses an amalgamation of lost objects which have lost their place and meaning in the world. Padua is metaphorically a space where lost things can find meaning again. But it’s also a place where reality isn’t black and white; where ghosts wander and are very active, breaking the physical barrier to create a little havoc.
Initially, I took the snippets of short stories which are connected to the lost objects to be Anthony’s personal work. That is, until Sunshine drops the glove because she saw its owner die. It’s interesting that while it’s made clear Sunshine has Downs Syndrome, she’s also the most emotionally intuitive character in the novel. She’s also the reason that they are able to find out why Therese’s spirit appears to be so frustrated. Sunshine understands these things better than Freddy and Laura do because her perspective isn’t limited by what is logical or expected. She sees the simplest truths and is able to translate those for Laura and Freddy. Between the three of them, there is a balanced relationship, meaning that Sunshine translates the mysteries of the world for them and, in turn, they translate the rest of the world for her. It’s not always a harmonious relationship, but in the end, it works.
The novel explores several different kinds of love as well as loss. The story of Eunice and Bomber, a husband and wife without the marriage part, is equally as lovely and heart-breaking as that of Anthony and Therese. In the present, a romance between Laura and Freddy unfolds, and they also learn to love an animal in rescued pup, Carrot. It isn’t so much a general kind of love that is explored in the novel, but a specific kind of “true love”. For Anthony and Therese, it’s a love that transcends death, allowing them to find one another beyond the grave. For Eunice and Bomber, it’s a mutual admiration for one another despite differences in sexuality and an unbreakable friendship which in the end tests Eunice’s resolve. For Laura and Freddy, it’s a connection which bonds them over disastrous past relationships and turns out to be more than they could have hoped for.
I enjoyed the way Hogan merged the two narratives right at the end of the novel, even though they unfold in parallel for most of the book. It finally reveals how the two stories are connected, and brings a real sense of nostalgic satisfaction to the reading. And although not all the lost things are returned to their owners by the end of the book, which might have ended the novel on a rather clichéd note, they manage to return one very meaningful object back to a very grateful Eunice, and that is infinitely more touching.
There is an undoubtedly autobiographical aspect to this story, in that the narrative ends with Laura beginning to write this very story – the tale of The Keeper of Lost Things. It’s a very cyclical ending, and very fitting. By the end of the book, the outcast characters each regain a sense of purpose and find a way to function again thanks to the healing they are able to provide for others.
March Book Review: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.