39 pages 1 hour read

Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost Things

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Ruth Hogan’s 2017 debut novel The Keeper of Lost Things is a romance infused with elements of the paranormal and the magical. Hogan, a career civil servant in the UK, was approaching 50 when the book was published. A prolonged recovery from a car accident and then a struggle with cancer gave her the opportunity to devote time to what had been her childhood passion for storytelling. A voracious reader, she had been writing short stories and outlining novels without finding publishing success since her time as a literature major at London’s Goldsmiths College. This book became a focus of appreciation on online reading clubs and in turn became a bestseller. In 2018, the novel was released in more than 30 countries, becoming an international bestseller. This study guide uses the 2017 HarperCollins paperback.

Plot Summary

The Keeper of Lost Things is a dual narrative that centers on two women, strangers to each other, whose parallel stories come together in the novel’s closing pages. In the contemporary narrative, Laura, a divorcee in her thirties reeling from the end of a long and difficult marriage to an abusive husband, answers an ad for a secretary for an elderly retired writer. Anthony Peardew lives in semi-seclusion in a rambling Victorian home in central London. Anthony has dedicated his life to a single eccentric mission: He gathers objects he finds carelessly dropped by others—everyday things that may hold unsuspected sentimental value to those who lost them. His study is a museum of these lost things, each carefully tagged and accrued across more than 40 years.

In the six years that Laura works for Anthony, a deep friendship develops. She comes to know his backstory, including his abiding love for Therese, a beautiful woman killed in a car accident days before they were to be married nearly 40 years earlier. As a token of her love, Therese gave him her First Communion medallion, which, in the chaos surrounding the car accident, Anthony dropped in the street and never recovered. That tragedy determined his life’s work as the keeper of lost things. When Anthony finds a cookie tin left on a train and discovers that it contains human cremains, he feels death suddenly near. That night, he dies, having bequeathed his home to Laura with the codicil that she is to take over his work finding those who lost these things.

Laura enlists the help of a teenaged neighbor nicknamed Sunshine who has Down syndrome and whose good cheer helps Laura. Sunshine appears gifted with intuition that allows her special sympathy for others and the ability to sense paranormal activity. In addition, Laura befriends Anthony’s hulky, no-nonsense gardener, Freddy, who becomes her first lover since her marriage. The three hold a garden ceremony involving Anthony’s ashes designed to celebrate Anthony’s reunion with Therese. Meanwhile, Laura keeps noticing evidence in the house that suggests to her (and to Sunshine) that the ghost of Therese is angry.

Interspliced with Laura’s narrative is the story, which begins in the 1970s, of Eunice, a 30-something woman hired as secretary to a London publisher some 20 years her senior named Bomber. The day of her interview, Eunice picks up a medallion she finds on the street outside the offices. Over the course of her employment, she falls in love with the charismatic Bomber even as she comes to realize that he is gay. Eunice shares Bomber’s dislike of his mean-spirited sister, Portia, a third-rate novelist. When Bomber shows signs of dementia, he convinces Eunice to agree to help him commit suicide when his condition worsens. Three years later, he calls in his promise. Dreading the gaudy memorial service Portia is staging for Bomber’s cremains, Eunice steals them away by putting the ashes in a cookie tin and filling the urn with cookies and gravel. On her way to scatter the ashes at Bomber’s beloved Brighton beach, Eunice inadvertently leaves the tin on the train. It is the cookie tin Anthony recovered.

In the closing pages, through a website that Laura and Freddy set up to trace the owners of the lost things, Eunice and Laura meet. Eunice recovers the ashes and returns a medallion she picked up in the street after the car accident decades earlier, hoping that Laura’s website might find its owner. It is, Laura just knows, Therese’s long lost medallion. At last, Therese is at peace. Laura and Freddy, now engaged, vow to continue Anthony’s work. As the novel ends, Laura turns to the dream she had growing up: being a writer. She types the first line of a story about cremains in a cookie tin left on a London train. It is the first line of the novel we have been reading.