Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By Sheridan Hay.
This book is a thinly veiled piece of fiction where the most vivid character is The Strand Bookstore in Lower Manhattan. A young, very naive, woman, after losing her mother (and only family) moves from Tasmania to NYC and gets a job at a bookstore called, The Arcade. Anyone who knows The Strand will recognize it in this novel. The plot deals with a mystery surrounding the discovery of an unknown manuscript of Hermann Melville. But the plot is really just a convenient way to enable the author her descriptions of this quirky haven for crazed bibliophiles. How do I know this? Because I worked at The Strand in my early 20s and it is unmistakable, right down to the miserly strange owner. When I worked there, in 1994, employees were paid in cash in these ubiquitous, tiny, manila envelopes. Every Friday was pay day and (coincidentally) employee book buying day. The book buying day meant that employees would get 50% off of their purchases. I saw many an itchy bibliophile (which describes almost all of the employees) mumbling to themselves about rent and "Oh, I should pay my utilities, but..." as they turned over large portions of the contents of those little manila folders back to the store.
This book is wonderful. The character sketches, the descriptions of the store, and even the thriller about Melville will thrill the literature-obsessed in all Readers (and you know who you are).