We recently had the opportunity to buy a large number of books published by the Everyman’s Library, and included in their special series – The Millennium Library. Almost all of the books we obtained are unread, some still in shrink-wrap. Some, though have dust-ingrained page edges and a very few have covers spoilt slightly by water-damage ; which is a pity, but both J and I are in need of reading material and at the least expense possible.
Thanks to the measures taken by the government to contain and mitigate the coronavirus epidemic, it looks like we’re going to have a year with few if any guests in our holiday lets, and no-one on the island to call in at the Hebridean Woolshed. In short, we’ve got to hunker down for a year or more with little or no monetary income – but perhaps more time for leisure. We’ll have more time to be outdoors, gardening or walking, certainly ; but when the weather’s not so good we’ll be glad to escape into the world of books, whether factual, fantasy, or fiction.
J has just looked over my shoulder and pointed out that this particular copy of collected writings by Albert Camus was acquired some years ago, and though included in the Everyman Library, this particular edition is not in the Millenium Library : it has better quality paper and dust jacket. But as to the content, regardless of edition, the writings of Albert Camus are one of the treasures of world literature. I had determined to read this book – or at least some of the works included in it – some while ago, when the Covid-19 was still just a problem for Wuhan province in China. But my reading of The Plague has, bizarrely, kept in pace with the development of the coronavirus pandemic here. The events described in the novel have many parallels with the present real-world situation, if we substitute special plague newspapers with daily podcasts, and runaway rumour with whatsapps-gone-viral. The principal difference, between the fiction of the book and facts of life, is that we now have the ability to observe and report on the developments as they happen – or with a lag of no more than 12 hours or so. Likewise, the authorities have the ability to inform – and instruct – the public directly, through the mediums of TV and social media. Fear is, in the current situation, better checked by balanced information and encouragement (through social media) by others. Greed, too, can be held in check by the collective social pressure of fellow citizens, not just the authorities.
I recently came across this paperback copy of The Eagle of the Ninth, a book that I remember fondly from my childhood : I was probably 12 years of age, and this was one of the first proper novels that I read. I went on to read other novels by Rosemary Sutcliff, though the only one I clearly recall was Sun Horse, Moon Horse, the setting of which was the origins of the Uffington White Horse on the chalk downs of southern England, and that was one of the most favourite places to go out for the day, when I was still in infant and junior school.
It’s unfortunate that the pages of this copy of the book have browned, and the paper has that acidic smell that is associated with old and unattractive paperbacks. The cover has creases and turned corners. But whilst I’m not tempted to keep this particular copy, it was, nonetheless, a genuine pleasure to revisit this book, – and without any sense of disappointment that often comes with revisiting cherished places and attempting to relive experiences.
Rosemary Sutcliff had that extraordinary talent of writing books that appeal to both adults and junior readers.
If I have now any criticism – and it is a minor one, it is that the romantic ending might better have been left as a hint, to be filled out by the readers’ own imaginations. I can’t recall whether that occurred to me as a child ; but I doubt it.
This novel is more or less the same age as I am ; but the difference between us is that the book has become a children’s classic, and is still in print, whereas …