The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy

After having so loved State of Happiness this year I was really looking forward to reading Stella Duffy’s latest novel once more. Every so often you come across a book where you just think ‘what a great idea’ and ‘how the hell did they come up with that?’ This is the case of Stella Duffy’s latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’. As you will all probably know I am a fan of Stella’s work and re-reading this recently has made the book even better the second time round. Has that happened to any of you? I think first time I was simply devouring it and couldn’t gat enough of the characters and had to know what happened instantly. This time it was a much gentler devouring and I spotted a lot of things that I had possibly missed the first time round and characters that grew on me even more so this time.

The story focuses on several characters but in particular Robert Sutton who is the keeper of the room of lost things. What is the room of lost things? Why it is a laundry in Loughborough Junction which he is leaving and where many people leave hints of their secrets in their pockets which Robert has collected. A laundry that he inherited from his mother Alice (one of my favourite names, I know not one horrid Alice) though sadly he himself has no Indeed the deal is very much done and he is handing the shop over to Akeel and his wife, meaning that he is packing up and dealing with his past and not only the secrets that other people have left in their laundry, but his own demons. All this whilst also training Akeel to do his job.

The rest of the book looks at the people in the area some of whom go into the laundrette and others who merely pass it day by day. Two of my favourite characters were the two homeless men who can often be found on the unwanted sofa on the street watching the world go by. Actually saying that I don’t think I had any favourites exactly I enjoyed all the characters and their tales and there is a huge scope in this novel be they the nanny who is having an affair with her boss, an old lady who has Alzheimer’s though doesn’t know it (that’s not a bad joke it’s the truth) or the commitment phobic dancer.

The latter is Stefan and he is a fabulous character, an ageing dancer and gay man on the cusp of middle age and scared to death of commitment. I actually think he is one of the most ‘real’ gay men I have read in a while. I don’t mean that all gay men are like him, though I may know some, he is just not your stereotypical gay man nor are his reactions to things. Through his character Stella covers the issue of homophobic crime… I won’t say more than that.

With a book filled with so many characters Stella Duffy’s additional skill is managing to give you insight into all their lives, relationships and stories without you feeling confused. There is really though one true star of the story and that is London and not the London that everyone knows and loves, not the tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of the West End. This is a truer London that those, like me, will know and love. Those of you who don’t will be entranced and will be left wanting to find the more hidden parts where tubes dare not tread when you next visit.

This book is in some ways a love letter (the prose is beautiful) to a part of London that Stella herself lives in and indeed loves. Though this is not a crime novel I feel Duffy has used her skills from her crime series to weave the plot whilst dropping hints and herrings along the way until you come to the end of the book. I want to say more about the ending but I shan’t as I could give things away, it’s a very well written and thought provoking ending is probably the best way to describe it. I was moved, I fell in love with London even more (especially as it was based on my side of the river) and I had read it before I realised it again, it just enveloped me. A wonderful book I whole heartedly recommend.

There will be an interview with the lovely author herself up on the site on Saturday so keep your eyes peeled for it!
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~ by greatgayreads on November 9, 2009.

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