Originally published: November 2018
Author: Salley Vickers
Published by: Penguin Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 385 pages
Reading dates: 21-24 February 2019
For those of you that don’t know I’m a technical librarian. I work in a company engineering library so spend my days reading about engines, the automotive industry and everything in between. I went to University for 3 years and did a degree in Library and Information Studies which I chose purely on the fact that I quite liked reading and quite liked books! It worked out well for me – I have being doing the same job on and off for 25 years and I still love it to this day. Things have changed quite dramatically in that time – the biggest change being the wealth of information that is now electronic and the fact we have to fight our corner as a valuable resource when people think they can just get everything off Google! Anyway, enough about me – as soon as I saw there was a book called The Librarian with a lady on the cover reading a book, I knew I had to read it. Luckily, it was chosen for my book club so I had the perfect excuse!
The story revolves around 24 year old Sylvia Blackwell who arrives in the village of East Mole in 1958 in order to start work in their run down library as the children’s librarian. She rents a cottage in the village and she is passionate about getting the children of East Mole reading.
Sylvia befriends several of the children including Sam, a bright son of one of her neighbours; Lizzie, the grandchild of her landlady whom Sylvia is tasked with getting through the 11+ exams and Marigold, the precocious child of the local GP. She soon knocks the library into shape and gets in touch with the WI and the local school in the hope of getting children into the library, much to the horror of the main librarian who isn’t the most welcoming, and isn’t keen on actual children using the children’s library! Children are not to be trusted in his opinion – they may damage or steal the books!
Oh my goodness, I adored this book so much! This is the perfect read for anyone who loves books and is wistful for past times. Despite it being written in 2018, the prose feels very much of it’s period. Some of the discussions between Sylvia and her boss made me roll my eyes and some of the books deemed suitable for children including Dickens, Shakespeare and a book titled “The Joy of Obedience” are funny. Luckily Sylvia has a good budget for new books and is able to fill the shelves with lots of wonderful books, which are detailed in a list at the back of the book, under “Recommended reading from East Mole Library”. Sylvia herself is perhaps a little naïve but wants the best for the children (and generally seems to like them!) and is keen to help her neighbours and become part of the community.
I loved reading this little snapshot of what small town England was like in the late 1950s…the nostalgia, the prejudices people had but also the simpler times and the freedom kids had. Just wonderful – I didn’t want it to end!
About the author:
Salley Vickers was born in Liverpool, the home of her mother, and grew up as the child of parents in the British Communist Party. She won a state scholarship to St Paul’s Girl’s School and went on to read English at Newnham College Cambridge.
She has worked, variously, as a cleaner, a dancer, an artist’s model, a teacher of children with special needs, a university teacher of literature, and a psychoanalyst. Her first novel, ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’, became an international word-of-mouth bestseller. She now writes full time and lectures widely on many subjects, particularly the connections between, art, literature, psychology and religion.
Her principal interests are opera, bird watching, dancing, and poetry. One of her father’s favourite poets, W.B.Yeats, was responsible for her name Salley, (the Irish for ‘willow’) which comes from Yeats’s poem set to music by Benjamin Britten ‘Down by the salley gardens’.