Despite a rather slow story, this novel hooks you in gradually, with wonderfully layered main characters.
This book isn’t what I thought, in that I was expecting a bit more ‘drama’ – I think this is fair enough considering the blurb ends with ‘dramatic consequences for them all’. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what this novel provides is a very focused story in the 1950’s with a quaint but thoughtful narrative.
The centre of the book is the setting, the Children’s Library in the small town of East Mole. It’s old fashioned, and beautiful in its descriptions, and yet it’s actually quite a subtle setting. Many of the events that unfold are related to the library in some way, and it’s fascinating with the way that Vickers associates the opening up of the library, and so perhaps the opening up of imagination and creativity, as the trigger to the drama that occurs.
The main character, Sylvia Blackwell, is interesting in that she seems unaware of her own naivety but also frustratingly aware that she’s overly involved in the lives of others. Her decisions seem to end up affecting or alienating those around her, and there’s a very subtle underlying sense of annoyance with her; but I also can’t deny the fact that I really liked her and the friendships she has with the children. This may be due to the fact that she is a very real character, with emotions and decisions that we could all relate to.
Many of the key characters are actually children, and they are wonderfully written. Sam Hedge, a young boy living next-door-but-one to Sylvia, is a fascinating character – he is rebellious, but also sensitive and emotional, and I loved seeing the evolution of the friendship between the two.
The one thing I really wasn’t keen on was the ending – the fast forward in time felt forced, like a way to bring together a love story that I wasn’t invested in anyway. For a book that highlights the way reading and learning can change lives, for it to fall back on a happy-ever-after ending was a frustrating read for me. I loved the undertone throughout that kept bringing Sylvia back to books, the way that at almost all key moments a book was mentioned or referred to. It was a beautiful message of love for literature, so I was disappointed that the ending was an ambiguous love story.
I did like that the flash-forward brought us back to the original library, and the clash with technology was made abundantly clear – it was an interesting reflection on modern life. The characters (with the exception of parts of the ending) were exceptionally interesting, mainly because none of them were perfect. They were so utterly human that it was impossible not to be drawn into their story.
Although this wasn’t what I was expecting when I picked up this book, it’s a lovely read, with great characters and a story that seems to almost be grounded in real life.