The Story of Finding the Book that I had Thought Would Always be Just Out of Reach

Do you have a book like that?

A book that you really want but that you think you will probably never be able to hold in your hand and read?

I did.

I discovered the author ten years or so ago, when one of her books was reissued as a Virago Modern Classics. I loved it, and I went looking for the two sequels. The library had one and I found an inexpensive paperback copy of the other.

I loved those two sequels too.

I couldn’t understand why only one book was in print.

The library had more of the author’s books in reserve stock, so I began to order them in, and it wasn’t very long at all before I had found an author to cherish.

I never could pick a single favourite of anything, but if I did have to pick a favourite author she would be on the shortlist.

The library didn’t have all of her books and, anyway, I wanted copies to keep.

I steadily tracked down most of her books, but I found that some of them were very difficult to come by.

The author was very successful, a few of her books were made into films, and so those were printed in large numbers, most of her subsequent books were too, and some of her earlier work was reissued.

Her first two books were never reissued.

I was lucky enough to find one of them a year or two ago, but that first book remained elusive. Copies did appear online occasionally, but they were so highly priced that I really couldn’t justify the cost.

Some of the authors books were reissued it digital form a while back. It was lovely to see them reappear, but all of the books that the publisher chose were already in my collection.

I continued to look for a copy of the book that I thought would always be just out of reach, but my hopes weren’t high.

Then a copy appeared, in the hands of a reputable American bookseller, at a much more reasonable price. It was far from cheap – cost what I might have spent on several brand new books – but I told myself that a chance like this might never come my way again.

I placed my order and I waited patiently for my book to fly across the Atlantic.

You may – if you have known me for any length of time – have a good idea of the name of the author and the name of the book.

The author is Margery Sharp, and the title of her very first novel was ‘Rhododendron Pie.’

The book begins like this

‘The Laventies’ garden was unusual in Sussex, being planted French-fashion with green-barked limes, eight rows of eight trees at a distance of six feet. The shady grass between them was dappled in due season with crocus, daffodil and wild hyacinth, but they had no successors. All the other flowers were in the lower garden, where Ann’s tenth birthday party was drawing to a rapturous close.

The young Gayfords were even then being led out of the great gate in the west wall, a gate almost as wide as the garden itself and surviving from the days before the stables had gone to make way for rhododendrons. It was of iron, man-wrought, with a beautiful design of fruit and foliage, and Mr Laventie used it as his back door.

With the departure of the guests a change came over the garden: the Laventie family settled back into itself with a breath of content. They had been exquisitely, lavishly hospitable, but when Dick pulled to the gate and leant back against it it was as though he barred our every everything that could mar the beauty of the hour.

“Now!” said Elizabeth.’

I may not read much more than that for a while, because I still can’t quite believe I have the book, because I want to savour the anticipation for a while, and because life isn’t leaving me too much reading time at the moment.

But I think, when things settle down a little, it is definitely time I read another one of Margery Sharp’s books …

A Few Hours in Truro ….

….and an explanation of why I’ve been quite elusive lately.

The Man of the House has been having certain medical tests lately, culminating with a procedure that would give us the clearest possible picture of what was going on. I took him to the Duchy Hospital in Truro, where he was whisked away by a pair of lovely nurses who told me that I could come back to fetch him in four hours. I didn’t want to drive all the way home and then all the way back again, and I didn’t want to be too far away, and so I drove down into Truro in the hope that I could distract myself by browsing in bookshops that I only visit a few times a year.

The Truro Heart Foundation Charity Shop has been a happy hunting ground for both of us in the past, and I did well there again.

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I found two well cared for Oxford World’s Classics volumes, holding three stories by Anthony Trollope that I didn’t have on my shelves. I’ve read mixed reports about these works, but I’m very curious to read a story set overseas, to try to understand why such a recognised author published two of these stories anonymously, and to spend more time in Trollope’s Ireland.

There was more Trollope in the next shop I visited – the lovely Pydar Mews Books – and they were lovely paperback New English Library copies but I left them where they were. There were some of the Palliser books and some of the Barsetshire books, but there wasn’t a complete set of either, and so I left them for someone else to find.

I did pick up a recent copy of ‘Fly Past’ magazine for the Man of the House from the bargain bin.

Then I spotted a lovely little copy of ‘Old Goriot’ from a Penguin series I hadn’t come across before; the back cover told me that it was #17 in a new series of translations and though the titles of the other books in the series were all terrible familiar I was pleased to think that someone had thought to put the series together more that half a century ago.

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I found a copy of ‘Time and the Hour’ too – a Howard Spring title that was missing from my collection. It’s a Fontana Monarch, and sadly lacking in the striking cover art that adorns many Fontana paperbacks. Maybe Fontana Monarchs were supposed to be more serious than standard Fontana paperbacks, but I really don’t know. I don’t know anything at all about this particular series.

My next stop was Truro Cathedral.

Then I went to the Oxfam Shop.

‘The Blind Man’s House’ was a late book by Hugh Walpole that I had never heard of. I’ve had mixed results with his work in the past, but it was such a lovely edition – published in the early years of WWII, before paper rationing began – and I see potential in the story.

“Julius Cromwell, blinded in the last war, brings his young wife Celia to their new home in an ancient house in the Glebshire village of Garth in Roselands. Julius’s blindness has opened to him a mysterious inner world, but the farther he goes into it the more deeply he is removed from those he loves ….”

It could go either way, and I may have to read a couple of earlier works first as there are characters who reappear.

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I brought home a copy of ‘The Last Light of the Sun’ by Guy Gavriel Kay too, because I remembered that Claire speaks so very well of him.

My book shop tour finished at Waterstones. Once upon a time if I hadn’t been to Waterstones for months I would have spent a fortune, but things have changed. Some of that is me. I’m much more focused in my book shopping than I used to be. But I think the some of it was Waterstones – or maybe commercial reality  and I was disappointed that there were very few books from interesting small presses, and that many of the themed selections were very mainstream.

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I did find a copy of ‘The Lost Europeans’ by Emanuel Litvinoff, which Simon tweeted about very positively a few days ago, though none of the other books from the same publisher series were on the shelves. Not even ‘My Son, My Son’ by Howard Spring who used to live just a few miles down the road.

The copy of ‘The Bronte Cabinet’ by Deborah Lutz replaces a library copy that I really didn’t want to give back.

Most importantly of all though, it was in Waterstones, as I was considering what book he would like best, that a text message arrived from the Man of the House. It said that his test result had been as good as they could be, and that all that lay ahead was reviewing the medication for the condition we knew he had. Something that lots of people live with.

I have no words to tell you how relieved and how happy I was.

I bought the book I had in my hand – ‘Queen in Cornwall’ – and he was delighted with it. I hadn’t known that one of his  friends still talks about working at the Winter Gardens when they played there.

It feels as if we have a new start in life, and maybe a new direction.

Reading – and writing about books – will be back on track very soon.

But real life will always come first.