The Librarian by Salley Vickers

I’m lucky to belong to a brilliant U3A reading group that meets on the second Monday of the month and this month our book for discussion is The Librarian by Salley Vickers.

Published by Penguin, The Librarian is available for purchase through the links here.

The Librarian

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.

The Librarian is a moving testament to the joy of reading and the power of books to change and inspire us all.

My Review of The Librarian

Sylvia has a new job.

Initially I wasn’t certain if I was going to enjoy The Librarian because at first it seemed quite lightweight and superficial. However, I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. There’s a wry wit in the writing style that looks right into the heart of who we are. There’s also a poetic quality to descriptions that I found vivid and clear.

Peppered with literary references The Librarian is an homage to the power and value of children’s books and reading, and I so enjoyed being reminded of stories I’ve loved over the years. The memories activated by reading The Library and the titles mentioned enhanced my pleasure in the book enormously.

However, scratch below the surface of The Librarian and there’s so much more to discover. Salley Vickers burrows beneath the thin veneer of civilisation and society to illustrate how little we know of our neighbours, our families and even ourselves. At the start I wasn’t especially enamoured of Sylvia, even though she is the pivotal character, as I found her actions frustrating and frequently foolhardy, but I thought the way she, often unwittingly, was the catalyst for action was inspired. By the end of the novel I was desperate to know what had happened to her. The twins added a humour I found appealed to me entirely, but it was Sam who held my attention most. He felt so vulnerable in his intelligence and morality, doing all the wrong things for the right reasons and having to live with the consequences. Through him there is a valuable lesson that life doesn’t play fairly and we can find ourselves in situations that have reverberating consequences for years to come. His experiences made me rage against their unfairness.

The small town setting of East Mole is a real microcosm of the world, where appearances and social hierarchies belie the truth. Several forms of prejudice are explored so that characters like Ned have to hide their sexuality and Salley Vickers conveys the late 1950s to perfection. The power of the WI, the church and those in (sometime spurious) authority is explored with incisive wit. Those who should know and behave better are frequently those who are most to blame. One of the central themes of The Librarian is a consideration of what constitutes moral behaviour. But even then Sally Vickers doesn’t allow clear cut assessment of her characters. I wanted to loathe Hugh for his treatment of Sylvia, Jeanette and Marigold, for example, and yet the author provided sufficient insight into his marriage, his personality and his love for his daughter that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

I think The Librarian can be read on many levels. It’s a diverting story of provincial life but it’s also an insight into who we are and why we behave as we do. I enjoyed the plot in its own right, but since finishing it, I have been pondering The Librarian and realise there’s even more to discover should I have chance to read it again. The Librarian is my first Salley Vickers’ read. It won’t be the last!

About Salley Vickers

Born in Liverpool, novelist Salley Vickers was named, by her father, after W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’. Vickers worked, variously, as a cleaner, a dancer, an artist’s model, and a psychoanalyst before writing her first novel Miss Garnet’s Angel which became a word-of-mouth bestseller around the world. A writer of great sensitivity and ability to capture the human condition, Vickers was described by one reviewer as ‘a novelist in the great English tradition of moral seriousness’. Her novels include: Instances of the Number 3Mr Golightly’s HolidayThe Cleaner of Chartres and Cousins.

For further information, visit Salley’s website or follow her on Twitter @SalleyVickers.

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