With a charming premise, a stunning cover design, and praises from top publications in the industry, The Keeper Of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan promises an enchanting tale of love and healing. But does the story live up to its praises?
In my opinion, that would be a BIG NO. Here’s my review of The Keeper Of Lost Things; I forced my way through all 336 pages of this disappointing novel so that you don’t have to.
Meet the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly 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 fulfil his legacy and 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…
With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you’ve finished reading.
WE’RE ALL JUST WAITING TO BE FOUND…
Trigger Warnings: death, trauma, grief, loss of a spouse, divorce
Ratings: 1 Out Of 5
Before I start, I do want to give credit where it’s due: as an author Ruth Hogan is wonderfully talented. She knows how to weave a beautiful story, and I loved her narrating style, the imagery, and all the motifs and themes she has incorporated in The Keeper Of Lost Things.
In fact, I think I probably would have loved this book…if only it didn’t have incessant misogyny and poor, unimpressive, underdeveloped characters.
The book follows the lives of three characters, Anthony–our titular Keeper Of Lost Things; Laura, our protagonist and Eunice, a woman whose story is closely interwined with that of Anthony’s though neither of them are aware of it.
In the present, Anthony is a man who has never moved on after the tremendous loss of the love of his life, and a memento she had given him. Laura is a woman who escaped a toxic, loveless marriage and is now escaping real life by working as Anthony’s personal assistant/housekeeper. Throughout the novel, the author explores the aftermath of grief through Anthony’s obession with finding and rescuing lost things, which eventually becomes Laura’s responsibility as well.
It sounds like a charming, wholesome story. So, where did it all go wrong?
Let’s start with Laura. For a protagonist, she was incredibly unlikeable and unimpressive. Initially, I empathized with her frustrations and anxieties, but throughout the whole book her fretful nature doesn’t really change–she never learns to see her worth without the love of a man to validate her feelings, and that to me is not empowering at all.
I understand that the author wanted to show the journey of a broken woman rebuiliding herself, but that is not what she accomplished.
There was a scene in particular that really stood out to me because of how excessively cringey it was (no spoilers): during one chapter, after getting an unwanted kiss from a date, we see Laura gurgling with mouthwash until she pukes in the toilet, then breaking into tears and drowning a whole bottle of wine before getting into bed naked and drunk as hell.
The unwanted kiss that preceeded Laura’s exaggerated reaction wasn’t even a forced kiss or sexual harassment of any kind. The whole scene was meant to provide comic relief. But instead, it made a 30-year-old Laura look like an idiotic 5th grader.
Add to that, Laura’s obsession with “culture” really bothered me. Throughout the whole book, the author tries to convince us that Laura is a classy, graceful, elegant woman because she likes fine, proper things such as having tea with the right china, serving food on silver trays covered in white lace…and it goes on and on.
Perhaps it’s a British thing, but I found this very classist and somewhat racist too; because as a woman of color, I had to grow up enduring jokes in film and media about how my people and my culture is savage and uncivilized, simply because we eat with our right hands instead of forks and knives.
Besides, not everyone can afford silverware or fine china, so Laura’s definition of “culture” is very classist, implying that poor people aren’t capable of elegance or grace.
I wish it ended here, but that’s not all. The entire book has a serious problem of internalized misogyny in the form of slut shaming. Let me give you a very clear and obvious example: all of the women portrayed in this novel who are supposed to be ‘evil’, or ‘antagonistic’ or ‘shallow’ and ‘stupid’ have one thing in common–they all like to party, they all like to wear very revealing clothing, and they all like sex.
Are you seriously kidding me?
When Laura dislikes any women in the book, or when any women is mean to Laura, those women have three things in common: they wear tight-fitting clothes, they like partying and they like sex.
When Laura talks about why her previous husband fell in love with her, she automatically assumes one of the reasons might be because other girls were ready to, and I quote directly from the book “drop their knickers” for him.
The same thing happens when the story is told from the perspective of another supporting character, Eunice. One of Eunice’s constant adversary is her love interest’s young sister Portia, an extremely cruel character who is also constantly slut-shamed throughout the novel simply for partying a lot and writing books featuring explicit sexual scenes.
Similar sexist (and even racist) jokes are made about a side character’s wife, who doesn’t even play any role in the book other than being mentioned in passing.
I am so sick and tired of seeing women’s sexuality being used as a weapon against them.
Finally, the last straw that really set me against this novel: the tokenism. While some diverse, minority characters were represented well, such as Bomber and his sexuality, the representation of Sunshine, a neurodivergent character was poorly handled.
First of all, Sunshine’s only role throughut the novel was to act as a catalyst for Laura’s character development (of which there was none, let me remind you). Even supporting characters have some agency, a motive that drives their own individual story, and Sunshine had none. She was just a crutch to hold up the protagonist’s character arc.
To make matters worse, throughout the novel, it is very strongly implied that we, the readers, should admire Laura for including Sunshine into her life and showing her the bare minimum kindness. I say bare minimum, because there were way too many instances where Laura had outright unkind thoughts about Sunshine, and we’re still expected to think of her as a saint? That’s kinda revolting, if I am being honest.
It’s because of these issues, these very big issues, that I cannot bring myself to give more than a one-star rating to The Keeper Of Lost Things. A shame really, because as a writer, Ruth Hogan has talent. Despite all of these issues, her prose and writing style, the way she weaved magical realism into the story, the motifs of loss and recovery, were absolutely wonderful and had me turning pages. But I cannot in good conscience, give a good review to a book that is insensitive about many sensitive issues and can hurt certain underrepresented readers too.
I will end my rather scathing review with this: The Keeper Of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a fine example of how a great story can be ruined without the lack of sensitivity readers to help with representation of important issues. How this book got nominated for Goodread’s Best Fiction 2017 list, I will never understand.
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!