From one book that talks about the benefits of libraries, amongst other things, to a book set in a library and with the benefits of libraries and learning at the core of the story: The Librarian by Salley Vickers.
In 1958, Sylvia Blackwell takes up a new job as the children’s librarian at East Mole library. As a child she had a love of books and she wants to share that with other children. To enthuse them about the written word.
She moves into a small end of terrace cottage and tries to settle into village life. She gets to know the family that live next door but one very well, and starts to try to reach out to local children and their families via both the WI and the local primary school. In doing so and through inviting them to the library, she ends up making friends with three young children in particular – her neighbour’s son, her landlady’s grand daughter and the daughter of the local GP.
But things are not straight forward. She ends up having an affair with the married GP and the neighbour’s son, caught between the attentions of two girls, ends up getting himself into all sorts of trouble. In doing so the children’s library is dragged into a local scandal, and the results of it threaten Sylvia’s own job there.
Part one of The Librarian is set in the late 1950s and as it’s a period that I really enjoy I found myself loving Sylvia (even if I didn’t agree with all the choices she made in life!) and I became incredibly caught up in her life in East Mole and everything that was going on around her. I was intrigued to find out what would happen next and was looking forward to seeing where the story would go, when suddenly part one finished and part two of the book began.
Without much by way of an introduction part two of the book is suddenly set in modern day and it’s a good few pages before you actually realise which of the book’s characters you are again following. You’re left assuming that it’s Sylvia, but then rather disappointingly in my opinion you find it’s actually another of the people that you first met in East Mole.
Part two of the book really does demonstrate the benefits of libraries as centres of communities and as places for both learning and escapism. It also shows how events of childhood can really shape a person – both for the better and sometimes the worse. But, and it is quite a big but, part two just really seemed to jar against part one for me. Yes it picks up some of the ends of what happens to some of the characters, but it seems to only give Sylvia a passing comment. I wanted to know so much more about what happened next to her and I was left almost feeling a bit let down. I’d become so invested in her in part one of the book that moving the focus almost seemed disloyal. I sort of understand why, even if I can’t explain why here as it would give away some of the story, but it left so much hanging in the air that I didn’t really feel satisfied when I finished the book.
Despite all this I did take away some good things from The Librarian. As a lover of libraries, and in particular children’s libraries, I could see what the character Sylvia was trying to do and wanted to support her in doing it. There were quite a few nice mentions of children’s books from the time and a very useful list of recommended reading from East Mole library at the end, which fits well with my aim to read some of the children’s classics that I missed as a child (a separate post on that soon). Having also just read Tom’s Midnight Garden as my daughter was studying it this term whilst I was helping with her home schooling, I was interested to read some of the references to it in the text and that too helped my understanding of some of the theories about it that were discussed in The Librarian. I’m just sadly still left feeling a tad disappointed at the end, and wishing I knew properly what happened to Sylvia when she left East Mole.
The Librarian by Salley Vickers is available to buy online here.