A forgotten inheritance

Recently clearing some of my mother’s books, in a small book-case I discovered a low shelf behind a door, concealing a forgotten inheritance: two-dozen post-war ‘economy’ hardback and paperback ‘English’ mysteries, often written for an American readership.

Instead of my usual habit of immediately stowing them into the car to take to the second-hand shop, something stopped my hand, and I’ve been skimming through them with interest: Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Hungry Hill’ a sepia-toned allegory on the pointlessness of greed; ‘While the Patient Slept’ a 1930’s whodunnit showing its age; a whole variety of unusual, older novels collected and shipped to my mother in France and then finally, one day, finding their way back to Scotland.

Near the bottom of the pile I hit a nugget of gold, Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon Days” (1985) and feel enormous relief to have discovered something so well written, humorous and engaging. I’ve enjoyed laughing along with his stories, refreshed and enlightened in equal measure.

Rather incongruously, I’ve also found a worn copy of Robert Harris’ ‘Pompeii’ which, though I have read it at least twice previously, is just as exciting to read again. Finally, a first-edition hardback of Edna O’Brien’s ‘Lantern of Slides’ which though as well-written and thoughtful as ever, is not a book to dip into for summery, refreshing escapism: the characters seem to be uniformly gloomy and unlucky: suicide, madness and murder may make good short story fodder, but this volume is one to avoid if one is feeling even a twinge of covid gloom.

I’m so glad to be reading, and in a strange way reassured, to discover among the books I love, those I dislike, and to be confirmed in my reasons for choosing not to spend time with various authors. I love Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so my dislike of 1950’s and 1990’s noir is not merely prejudice against what might be slightly out-dated, but based firmly around what I enjoy. Which, I reflect, is also useful for the time when I may get back to writing my own stories again.

Thanks for reading.

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