Richard and Judy Review The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
"If you don’t recognise yourself on some of these pages, I’ll be surprised. "
What’s that American saying?
‘Life turns on a dime.’
If we look back on our own lives, I’m certain we can all recall tiny, almost instantaneous moments in time that shaped our destinies, and that of those around us. Once those thresholds are crossed, there’s no going back. The late writer and politician Alan Clarke had a personal, immutable law that comprehensively covered the entire issue. He called it the Two Second Rule.
‘You can’t turn the clock back. Not even by two seconds.’
Indeed not. Fate rarely hangs in the balance; more usually it is almost instantly decided on a twist of chance or happenstance.
And that is the central theme of this wonderful book, The Keeper of Lost Things. I’m a sucker for a good title, so Ruth Hogan’s imaginative, whimsical tale of friendship, love and loss had me pretty much from the front cover. And what follows drew me inexorably into a beautifully woven story tied to the microscopic moments on which our lives can switchback, dive, soar and crash.
If you don’t recognise yourself on some of these pages, I’ll be surprised. Like all good novelists, Hogan connects directly with her readers – and the serendipity that winds through her story like the lettering through a stick of seaside rock will have you nodding in recognition and appreciation. It’s a sort of mirror in which we can glimpse ourselves. And it’s enormous fun to read – as Sheryl Crow sings in her hit Every Day is a Winding Road: ‘ Lay back, enjoy the show.’
Lay back with this book. Enjoy.
"This is a book brimful of stories and one of the most charming novels either of us has read. "
This is a double-stranded story. We have Anthony Peardew, a long-widowed writer with a strange, obsessive hobby: he collects lost items; objects dropped, left behind, wrongly posted or simply abandoned by their owners.
Peardew is fascinated by such items and feels a moral obligation to keep them, store them, guard them and treasure them. Why? Because long ago he made a promise, and he broke it. Becoming the keeper of lost things is his path to redemption, and he follows it dutifully and faithfully for the rest of his entire life. As you read his pilgrim’s progress, I challenge you not to be moved, stirred and sweetly saddened.
The second strand of Hogan’s terrific novel is delivered by a man known affectionately as ‘Bomber’. Bomber’s ashes are left in a Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin on a train to Brighton, and they become a part of Peardew’s strange collection.
Both men have similarities. They are eccentrics, and depend on loyal women for their daily existence. Peardew’s housekeeper Laura takes loving care of him and when he dies she inherits his house, and his eclectic collection of lost things. His only stipulation is that she tries to return them to their original owners.
Bomber is a publisher who’s looked after by his assistant, Eunice, who responded to an advert in The Lady: ‘Wages woeful but work never dull!’
This is a book brimful of stories and one of the most charming novels either of us has read.
Don’t lose it. Keep it.
What a marvellous concept for a story: we’ve never read anything quite like this. How did you come up with the idea?
The Keeper Of Lost Things began with a single sentence that came into my head on a train journey and that sentence eventually became the first line of the novel. But it took a while for me to come up with the rest of the story. I often describe myself as a documentary junkie, and the more weird and wonderful the topic, the more it interests me. I’m forever cutting things out of magazines and newspapers, and the plot for Keeper was initially sparked by two news articles – the first about the strange things that end up in Lost Property Departments, and the second about the fate of cremation remains that are never claimed from funeral directors. My leading man, Anthony Peardew, was inspired by a former neighbour of mine who, I was told, became a reclusive hoarder after the tragic death of his fiancée. I named him Anthony and gave him a house called Padua, because Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things. Peardew was a little joke that I had with myself. It is pronounced in the same way as ‘perdu’ – the French word for ‘lost’. Anthony’s fiancée, Therese, was named after Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was also known as Saint Therese of the Roses, which just happen to be my favourite flowers.
The mystical element (Sunshine can ‘feel’ the history of the found things when she holds them) works because you make it possible for us to suspend our disbelief, but these things are notoriously tricky to pull off in novels. Were you tempted to steer clear of the supernatural?
I knew that if I included a mystical element, there was a risk that it might put some readers off, but I also feel, as an author, that I should write honestly and be true to what I believe. I remember reading some years ago an article by PD James about her 10 tips for writers, and two things she said have stayed with me. The first was ‘You must be born to write’, and the second was ‘Write about what you know’. I was brought up listening to my dad’s stories about the ghosts that haunted the house where he lived as a boy, but they were never told in a sensationalist way. They were simply another part of his childhood. As an adult, I have experienced things that it would be hard to explain, but I am happy to accept that not everything has a logical explanation. I’m not asking my readers to believe in ghosts or psychic abilities, but only to consider the possibility that such things might exist. On the whole, the response has been very positive. In fact, at a talk I gave recently to a local book club, a lady took me to one side and asked me whether I believed in ghosts. When I answered ‘Yes’, she was delighted. ‘I so hoped that you did!’ she told me.
This is very much a reflection on how, as the Americans say, ‘life turns on a dime’. Have you always believed in that as a force in our fates; the tiny moments in which a life can utterly change?
My own life has taught me that it’s true, absolutely. I used to think that certainty and security were the key elements to a happy existence, but these are things that we can’t always control, and to live in fear of losing them is pointless. There have been pivotal moments in my adult life where my world has been turned completely upside down and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. But I’ve learnt that I always have a choice about how to face it, and some of the worst things that have happened to me have made me a better person and changed my life in a very positive way. We never know when what we have could be snatched away. We can only try to appreciate every day we have it.
And for your next trick… how’s the new one going?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches to book two, The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, with my editor. It is essentially a story of empowerment, hope and redemption. One of the principal characters has suffered a terrible loss and we follow her journey from a very dark place through to a completely new life. She’s inspired to change by two of my favourite characters in the book; an old lady who feeds the crows in the park and sings opera in the local cemetery, and a seventy-year-old amateur dramatics diva who is dating an undertaker named Elvis. Some of the darker themes explored in the book were inspired by my own experiences, for example being diagnosed and treated for cancer, but there’s also a healthy dose of humour and a cast of eccentric (and hopefully!) loveable characters. And, of course, there are dogs.
- Discuss the structure of the novel and how Ruth Hogan ties all the threads together.
- Discuss why Anthony collected ‘lost things’ and why he felt the need to return them all to their rightful owners.
- Sunshine is such an interesting character. Discuss how she interacts with the other characters.
- What are the parallels between the characters of Laura and Eunice?