The Library by Bella Osborne – an enjoyable novel of contemporary life and a Book Club choice

The Library by Bella Osborne

Some book groups go for challenging literature – for our second meeting of our relaunched book group we decided that this book fitted the bill. It has characters that are perhaps unusual in a contemporary novel – a teenage boy and a seventy-two-year-old woman. It features one character who has severe problems and the topic of loneliness in two different age groups. It is also of course set in a library, one that Maggie and Tom meet in, and is under threat of closure. My edition also includes “Questions for your Book Club”, which we did not work our way through, but which made interesting points about the book’s themes. In a way it is a very positive book – but I admit to at least point that I found quite moving when Tom’s dad destroys something important to Tom. It has its comic points – Maggie it seems is a physically tough older lady, when it comes to work on her small holding dealing with Colin and other tasks, and in defence of herself and others. Tom describes himself as “invisible” as only a quiet sixteen-year-old can be, without friends and having lost his mother when he was younger. His relationship with his father is tough, his concern about a future working in the dog food factory understandable, and his half expressed hopes for romance painful. This is a novel that can set off many discussions topic, and also be an enjoyable book in its own right.

It is soon established that the importance of the library is that it is one of the few places that people from different age groups and backgrounds can come together and all find something for them that is free. Maggie is organised and resourceful, but essentially lonely with not enough to occupy her. Widowed and living alone, she enjoys reading many types of books, especially when it means she can go to the library on a Saturday for a book group. Tom’s appearance at the library is more accidental; a comforting memory of visiting with his mother, and a place of books which fill the empty hours in his difficult home life. After his dramatic meeting with Maggie, it becomes a place where he realises that he may find friends, both much longed for and surprising. The structure of the book is very interesting: Tom relates his own story and feelings in his own voice, including his terrible times with his father, his taking on of domestic responsibilities. Maggie’s story is closely related, but it soon becomes obvious that she has an unusual back story and a dramatic secret. As befits a teenager Tom has much to relate on the subject of food, especially the contrast between the sparse fare at home and the plentiful meals that Maggie happily provides, and there are also some wonderful pictures of the farming life that Maggie is used to, but which is a whole new world for Tom.

Altogether this is a novel which provided many talking points. We spoke about libraries at some length; we admitted that our own use of libraries varied at the moment but that they were valuable places that are worth fighting for. The fight for the library as described in the book is realistic, with the suggestion that the local authorities are only really interested in the financial aspects of the closure. This is a novel which we generally enjoyed, and I would certainly recommend it as a good read which combines lots of interesting issues with great characters.