Book review: The Librarian
The Librarian by Salley Vickers is the reason I will never own a Kindle. In truth, I was never tempted - so much joy to be had in a real bookshop and buying a real book - but this little treasure is surely enough to turn the head of even the most gadget-addicted reader.
Its cover is in that lovely old fashioned village hall green, the spine in gold print. And then there's the vintage floral end papers. Call me a soppy nostalgic, but I was persuaded to buy it on looks alone.
At that point, the book's only connection to Cumbria I knew of was the fact that I bought it at Waterstones in Kendal. It wasn't until the very end, reaching the Author's Notes, that I discovered a genuine Lake District link. It turns out that Vickers had a Cumbrian uncle whose father was a local schoolmaster and knew Beatrix Potter. Before starting school, Vickers learned to read via his editions of Miss Potter's little books and says she's indebted to the Lakeland writer for enhancing her vocabulary.
As for The Librarian, it transports us back to the late Fifties and introduces us to Sylvia Blackwell, opening with her taking up the post of children's librarian at East Mole. Not, on the face of it, a recipe for a rip-roaring read.
In fact, Sylvia proves to be a bit of a minx, both in pushing on determinedly with her mission to get more children reading by curating a collection of her favourite authors, and in her love life.
Her first target and principal member of the literary haven she creates is Sam, who proves to be an easy convert. In the end, it's a book, or at least a relationship around a book, that proves to be his undoing, threatening both his future and that of the children's library.
Just like any good book, life in East Mole is about the characters, including the repulsive Ashley Booth, and Hugh Bell, the older man with whom Sylvia scandalously falls in love and who proves, ultimately, to be unworthy of her. Faced with the prejudices and expectations of the time, it is Sylvia herself who perhaps undergoes the greatest education, the idealism she reads in so much fiction sadly shattered by the real world reality.
The biggest love story is between Vickers and literature itself. The numerous references and recommendations for children's classics is one of the aspects of the book that I loved. It helps if you're familiar with Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (I was) and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (I wasn't, but have acquired it since).
Some of the suggestionsmay be titles you already know, others you might have missed first time around but are inspired to read now. And surely that's the job of any good Librarian.
(The Librarian by Salley Vickers, hardback published by Penguin)
Independent book shops to visit in Cumbria:
Sam Read, Grasmere – www.samreadbooks.co.uk
The New Bookshop, Cockermouth - www.newbookshop.co.uk
Fred’s Ambleside Bookshop - https://fredsamblesidebookshop.co.uk
Hedgehog Bookshop, Penrith