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on 28 April 2008
I love London. The buildings, the tube, the bustle. A few years ago I finally went to South London and discovered a different London. One that doesn't come with map, that is louder, stranger, a mish-mash of cultures - sounds, smells and sights - squashed next to each other in shops less picture postcard and even more alluring for that.

`The Room of Lost things' is set in this area, which is painted in a loving yet real fashion, with no grotty archway or uncomfortable issue (race/sex/politics)glossed over in favour of making it seem desirable to outsiders, and the descriptions in this book are almost poetic at times.

Stories with too many characters can be confusing and distracting, but this, although heavily casted, is not like that. You can picture Stefan the commitment-phobe dancer; Akeel the terrified and conflicted father to be, Marilyn with her tight clothes and massive appetite, and of course, there's Robert, the protagonist - owner of the dry cleaners and many, many secrets.

His story had me going. I couldn't wait to find out more about him, but this wasn't because of any overly dramatic devices or cheesy revelations. Like the character his story was slow, steady and well-thought out.

I've been a fan of Duffy's since finding Immaculate Conceit in Manchester's Central Library many years ago, and her writing has matured, progressed and is even better, which as I love her other books, was a lovely surprise.
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on 28 April 2008
This is a book about London as its people know it - the London the tourists don't see, but the inhabitants live. The focus of the book is the story of a local dry cleaner who's spent his whole life there, cleaning people's clothes, keeping their secrets, observing their lives. Now he's passing on his business to another Londoner - young to his old; Muslim to his atheist; Asian to his white. The landscape, the river and vignettes of the people they encounter along the way are the background to their growing friendship, richly and skillfully drawn.

The Room of Lost Things is a gorgeous evocation of the spirit of South London; a compassionate portrait of its people and their changing lives, beautifully written, funny, clever and moving. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 26 March 2008
I was enchanted by this book. It reminded me of why I fell in love with London when I first moved here several decades ago. It is the protrait of a South London community over a year - a year in which the dry cleaner's business passes from the hands of ageing, white working-class Robert, who grew up in the shop, to Akeel, a young Asian East Londoner who dreams of a future business with many such shops. The author evokes the mixed community with snapshots from the lives of a range of individuals, their preoccupations, love-affairs, encounters with mortality, and their various strategies for coping with the hazards and beauties of London life. She describes with delicacy the growing relationship between Robert and Akeel, creating an elegy to the stoicism, humour and resilience of Londoners. She has created a vision of the role of the dry cleaner as the keeper of secrets, community historian, and father confessor which accentuates the everyday, understated herosim of the likes of Robert. The whole is grounded in an awareness of the plants, birds and animals that share the land with the humans, and always, in the background, the river Thames.
The vision is so convincing it took me a few days after reading the book to even wonder whether Loughborough Junction is the name of a real place after all, or whether it belongs with such believable creations as Platform 9 and 3/4 on Kings Cross station...
An unusual and original book which deserves the Orange Prize for which it has been longlisted.
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on 2 April 2009
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. 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.

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.
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on 7 June 2012
The anticipation of opening a Stella Duffy novel after a diet of quick reads is, for me, like anticipating really great cooking after a week of grabbing sandwiches on the go. Ever since I met her 'Saz Martin' over ten years ago I have enjoyed and admired her skill and craft.

I'm now a North Londoner - The Room of Lost Things really evocates a South London I recognise. However, you don't need to know or live in London to appreciate and experience the world in which Robert and Akeel live. It's a place of contrasts, of wealth and poverty cheek by jowl, of old and new traditions coming to terms with each other. The richness of this world is created both through the developing relationship between the two main characters and through the glimpses into the lives of Robert's customers.

In Robert she has created a character who vividly illustrates the central position that established small shopkeepers have in the lives of a community and individuals and the trust given to them. Robert's story also marks the passing of old traditions and allows us to explore the dilemmas and challenges we face as we go through trnasitions in our lives. The keys in his collection unlock doors, they also unlock glimpses into others' lives.

I'd readily recommend the book. Since putting it down I keep seeing shades of some of the characters on the tube!
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on 12 March 2016
This was one of my book group reads. Robert Sutton has run a drycleaning business at Loughborough Junction most of his life. He decides to retire and pass the business over to Akeel, a young Muslim with a pregnant wife.

There isn't a lot of plot in this book (though Robert does have a couple of nasty little secrets) it is a mostly affectionate look at the widely varied people who populate the area, which is not one to be found in popular tourist guides.

The book leaves us with two alternative endings: I've made my choice.
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on 6 February 2016
Robert, an old man handing over his South London dry cleaning business to Akeel, a younger Asian man doesn't sound very interesting at first. But over the course of the year that they work together, he not only teaches him about the business, but we learn the stories of some of the customers, and as they gradually become friends, secrets are swapped. Very well written, with some lovely descriptions, I was soon wrapped up in the story.
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on 25 May 2009
Were it not for my book club I wouldn't have considered this book, with it's somewhat bland facade. My life would have been so much the poorer! This is a beautiful book, that to me spoke about the human condition and most of all about loneliness and the brief connections that we make with one another. The character of Robert is beautifully observed, and watching his tentative friendship with Akeel develop throughout the book was one of the joys of reading. The revelations are so subtly introduced that it's only a little while after reading them that they hit you with their magnitude.

I particularly liked the fact that Stella Duffy made no moral judgements about some of Robert's more questionable actions. This would have been very easy to do, and for me would have lessened the impact of the book.

If I have any criticism, it is that I was initially confused by the number of characters that we are introduced to. There are quite a few people threaded throughout the narrative that perhaps have a superficial connection to Robert and the shop, but these gradually slotted into their place, and just like life, were often left as loose ends.

Incidently, other members of the group disliked the fact that the "room of lost things" was potentially underplayed and mislead the reader into thinking that would be the major topic of the book. It isn't; the original title was (I think, correct me if I'm wrong!)'The Junction', and this is probably a more accurate reflection of what you get - a year in the life of Loughborough Junction, in particular the inner workings of the dry cleaners.

I would never have believed that one of my top books would concern the story of an aging dry cleaner in London. But it is! This book is material that for me that transcends it humble origins and I can't praise it highly enough.
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on 28 April 2008
I loved this. The Room of Lost Things is a departure for Stella Duffy, as it's a portrait of a place as well as a novel, but it may well be her best yet.
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on 27 March 2009
An engaging and beautifully written story, for anyone who's interested in other people; one of the few books that I would save to pass on to others.
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