Author Anthony Peardew has been haunted by a broken promise for forty years. Compelled to collect lost items in the hope of finding their owners his study in Padua, his home. But as he realises his life is drawing to a close, he also knows that he must pass on the task of reuniting the items with the people who lost them. The perfect person is Laura, his assistant and housekeeper, who finds herself the new owner of Padua and its contents. Eager to carry out Anthony’s wishes but overwhelmed with the task she is soon aided by Freddy, the gardener and Sunshine, a lonely girl with special gifts. Unbeknownst to her it may be that Anthony has left her the greatest gift anyone could have. And whilst she helps lost things find their lost people, she may just find herself in the process.
There is something slightly magical about this book. It casts its spell over the reader, drawing them into the story, so that you are soon caught up in the tale of Anthony and his lost things. This is a book that keeps calling to you to read if you have to unfortunately break off for any reason.
The story is populated with a wonderful array of characters, with not one out of place. Laura had arrived at Padua years earlier, looking for an escape from the tattered remains of an unhappy marriage. With Anthony and the house she finds peace and a surrogate family. As the story develops so does Laura, becoming less embittered, less selfish and more sure that she has some self worth and is deserving of happiness.
Freddy, the gardener, awakens feelings in Laura that she though were long gone, but also provides friendship and laughter, helping her with her task. Then there is Sunshine, who as her name suggests, brings light and warmth to the lives of her new friend Laura and Freddy. Sunshine is a special girl, with unique gifts and her ability to say, simply, what other people find difficult to vocalise helps Laura in unexpected ways. Laura and Freddy help to counteract the bullies who have marred Sunshine’s life and give her purpose.
There is a parallel story running throughout, that of Edie and Bomber, spanning forty years. Edie’s story is one of unrequited yet sustaining love, of her deep friendship with Bomber. Throughout her tale there are glimpses to show how her story and Anthony’s story merge together, whether that is serendipitously or coincidentally is open to question.
The tale weaves between the two, showing how Anthony and Edie’s lives become inextricably linked, through coincidence or cosmic design. It requires some suspension of disbelief but is done in such a charming way that you could almost be left wishing real life was a little more like this book. It is a ghost story, a story of love, and of sadness and of the impact physical things can have on a person’s life.
The story shows the history behind some of Anthony’s lost things, some happy, many sad, others funny. All snapshots into other people’s lives and the significance, or not, of the physical objects gathered through life. They are the muse for Anthony’s popular short stories. Perhaps life does imitate art for the author herself is a collector of lost things and inspired her novel and the cover features some of the treasures she has unearthed over the years.
Don’t expect a mad dash of a story for this is a gently told tale. Sometimes that is just what is needed, gentle escapism. A lovely story, perfect to curl up with on a long winter evening. I look forward to reading more from Ruth Hogan in the future.