In an unprecedented reading move, I’ve had to put Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies to one side halfway through its reading because once I’d got my hands on The Keeper of Lost Things, the debut novel written by Ruth Hogan, I couldn’t let it go. Of course if Sharon and I had shared Danish pastries, a love of words and books (not to mention trying to get another writerly friend’s arse into gear) then perhaps I’d have continued with LBLs, but we haven’t and we don’t so I didn’t.
Years ago, when Ruth passed me her typed opening chapters to Keeper, I remember the feeling of utter despair (as would have any other fledgling author) as I started reading…
“Charles Bramwell Brockley was travelling alone and without a ticket on the 14.42 from London Bridge to Brighton. The Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin in which he was travelling teetered precariously on the edge of the seat as the train juddered to a halt at Haywards Heath. But just as it toppled forward towards the carriage floor it was gathered up by a safe pair of hands.”
Because it’s just so blummin’ effortlessly well-written. And compelling. And it gives you the warm ‘n’ fuzzies right at the get-go – which doesn’t let up the entire way through. I predict that this (which I still think deserves to be a standalone chapter) will one day be up the with The Great Opening Lines thingummies that appear as bookish quizzes on the interweb from time to time. Not to mention it will also become one of Richard Curtis’s most lauded fillums – maybe alongside ‘Four Weddings’ which will always complete my wasted heart ‘til the day I end up in my very own biscuit tin.
I’ve been trying to think of ways to describe Keeper without sounding mawkish and wheedling; of course also without giving too much away. And the best I can come up with is the way it made me feel after I’d put it down. It made me feel that sparks of goodness and kindness are within everyone’s reach if you’ve the courage to raise your eyes (or drop them in some cases) and search them out or let them find you. Like I said: warm ‘n’ fuzzies.
Initially there appear to be two stories to The Keeper of Lost Things. The ageing Anthony Peardew (and if anyone sees the subtle genius in his surname then I shake your hand) who begins as The Keeper with his trusty assistant Laura’s, story. And book publisher Bomber with his equally trusty assistant, Eunice, whose story begins further back in time. But as their stories (and the stories concerning the actual Lost Things) unfold, it’s clear that their lives and worlds are going to have to touch at some point for the whole raison d’être to become clear. And wow – what a way to do it (see, no spoilers!).
The Keeper of Lost Things is more than a story about things and people lost and found – it’s a story about belonging. From the obligations we have (and have to keep up at times) to our genetic family, to the belongings we carve for ourselves in the relationships we make along life’s way.
The characters are beautifully sculpted, from Anthony, Laura, Bomber and Eunice, through the spikily hilarious Portia who I had in my head as a deluded Cruella de Vil, and the utterly fabulous ‘dancing drome’ Sunshine who steals the show every time she’s in a chapter (a cup of tea has, since I first started reading Keeper, become known as ‘The Lovely Cup of Tea’ as it will become for other readers). There’s laughter, tears, heart-wrenching moments of loss, and hopelessness and yet through it all the warmth and charm shines encouragingly through, culminating in a story that has already made me miss every character whose story I felt privileged to have been a part of.
10/10 – and not just because Ruth’s a lovely lady and it’s her turn to buy Danishes next week. This book warmed my chilled bones and made me feel less alone; as if Christmas had arrived early without all that fractious preamble which generally accompanies it.
Ruth’s debut novel, The Keeper of Lost Things is published on 26th January, 2017 and is available to pre-order on Amazon right now.