When the publisher reached out to me with a copy of this book they compared it to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.* I read it before I started this blog and I recently (well back in July), saw the stage adaptation of it, and this lived up to the billing. I hate doing the comparison thing, but when the shoe fits…I found this to be an interesting cross between Curious Incident and Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. Seriously, if two books could have a love child, those two books would have this one.
Unfortunately, I didn’t blog about this immediately when I finished the book. This is a good thing, I get to talk about the things that have stuck with me over the past two months, and a bad thing, some of the details are a bit fuzzy.
Where I think Keller excelled was in her world building, which is odd as this isn’t really a traditional fantasy/science fiction novel where you would see this. This novel is set in New York City, but there are two versions of NYC: the one anyone can visit and the one that Walter lives in. This second NYC is the one that ties the book so closely to Curious Incident and Chocolat with Walter’s experience and the pseudo-magical world he and his mother and their friends/acquaintances live in. I think it’s a strength of Keller’s writing in that I’m still not 100% sure whether the magic was real or whether it was all allusion/fantastical creations in Walter’s mind.
Where I think the book fell short was on Walter’s journey to find what’s his that’s missing. Each person he visited was fascinating, but I felt the stories could’ve been tighter. There were a couple of times where I found myself getting distracted or nodding off (when reading in bed). I’m not sure if this was because of the particular character or how the section read. There were some wonderful minor characters, but the balance between throwaway and strong supporting was fine and it often felt like they moved back and forth between those two categories.
Recommendation: Give it a go, Keller has a lot of potential. There were parts of this book that were truly magical (even outside of the actual magic). When Keller wrote about the carousel in Central Park, it came alive for me. That being said there were also times when I wasn’t sure I would make it to the next chapter, especially the large section in the middle when things really slowed down. I’m not sure If I’ll go out of my way to find another book by Keller, but if one comes across my desk I would definitely consider it.
*I received a copy of The Luster of Lost Things from the publisher in return for my honest opinion. No goods or cash were received.
Opening Line: “Somewhere in the Fourteenth Street subway station there is a statue of a little bronze man who waits for a train that never comes.”
Closing Line: “The flame twists and turns, and with a single breath I set it free.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Luster of Lost Things
“Lost things are bridges. They are connections to some other time or place or person or feeling, and for the ex-agent, the identification card was a bridge to the person he knew himself to be.” (197)
“We bray and lean off our horses with our arms outstretched, and them most crazy part is that since I met Lan and started this search—the first one that forced me to truly leave behind the certainty and safety of home—I feel like Ih ave been walking toward this moment, the final moment of some opus of existence in which I already experienced love and fear and anger and loneliness, and along the way I found courage and vulnerability and connection and conviction, and all of it adds up to this—a counterpoint, sweet and true and simple as the calliope march cranking out of the Carousel.” (249)