In 1958, Sylvia Blackwell, fresh from one of the new post-war Library Schools, takes up a job as children’s librarian in a run down library in the market town of East Mole.
Her mission is to fire the enthusiasm of the children of East Mole for reading. But her love affair with the local married GP, and her befriending of his precious daughter, her neighbour’s son and her landlady’s neglected grandchild, ignite the prejudices of the town, threatening her job and the very existence of the library with dramatic consequences for them all.
Picked this book up on one of my visits to Waterstones (other book shops are available and I use them too). I don’t remember what attracted me to the book, but I guess it was the title and the fact that the cover looked out of time with our era. The blurb had me though. I always wanted to be a librarian when I was younger. Seeing libraries close is heartbreaking though and should be stopped at government level with funding being so important. I came from a family where books were always important, we went to the library every week to pick out new books.
Anyway I’m getting sidetracked here. The book starts with us being introduced to the new children’s librarian at East Mole library. Sylvia is young and excited to get to work in the small town. However she’s shocked at the state of the library. Hardly any books to get children excited and coming to this small building. Her boss seems a jobsworth, aloof and uncaring, although we find out a darker side to him. She quickly gets on with the volunteer Dee, who helps her renovate the children’s section.
Living in a small house, she meets her neighbours. A boorish man, a friend of her boss, lives next door. Brusque and officious she doesn’t get along with him. Two doors away are a young family who take Sylvia into their family and help her integrate herself into the small community. The children Sam and twins Jem and Pam take to Sylvia and in turn she introduces them to books.
The story is told perfectly. I found I was reading it at times when I should be working. Its a gentle story, told in what I would say was an authentic voice. At times you can be forgiven to thinking nothing is happening, but yet Salley Vickers is pulling us gently into East Mole and introducing all the characters. You turn pages like an addict, feeling you’re actually in the small town. Rather like a television drama it unfolds before your eyes.
The characters are well drawn but at times you can anticipate what’s about to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the book at all. This is like a little backwater, an oasis of an almost idyllic past. It shows the power of literature and what it can do to children who read and appreciate stories.
The books real gem is the second part, which forms the last two or three chapters. We move on years to see the impact that the library and Sylvia had on the small town and the lives that she touched.
This is a tale that fills you with good thoughts, a rare treasure in this age of gore and sadness. I was really sad to end my visit to East Mole. This is a book in it’s purest form. You will never regret the time you spend reading it.