Published by Zaffre
Publication date – 2 September 2021
Source – review copy
You can tell a lot about a person from the library books they borrow
Library assistant June knows a lot about the regulars at Chalcot Library, yet they know very little about her. When her mum – the beloved local librarian – passed away eight years ago, June stepped into her shoes. But despite their shared love of books, shy June has never felt she can live up to the village’s memory of her mum. Instead, she’s retreated into herself and her memories, surviving on Chinese takeaways-for-one and rereading their favourite books at home.
When the library is threatened with closure, a ragtag band of eccentric locals establish the Friends of Chalcot Library campaign. There’s gentlemanly pensioner Stanley, who visits the library for the computers and the crosswords, cantankerous Mrs B, who is yet to find a book she approves of, and teenager Chantal, who just wants a quiet place to study away from home. But can they compel reclusive June to join their cause?
If June wants to save the library, she finally has to make some changes to her life: opening up her heart to friendship, opportunities and maybe even more . . .
June spends her days at the library where she has worked for the past 10 years. In the evenings she returns home, to the empty house where she has always lived with her mum, until she died 8 years ago, the only company there, a grumpy cat called Alan Bennett and her books. She knows her regular library users and they know little about her. But when the library is threatened with closer, June’s careful quiet life is threatened. Will she be able to save the library and perhaps discover there’s more life in the process?
Now I love books about books, books about libraries or bookshops or any that hint at anything bookish. I was therefore very keen to read The Last Library.
The campaign to save the library is light hearted, for the reader in any event. The determination to stop the council’s closure of libraries reignites former protestors, gives people something to focus on and even, in the case of the local retirement home, an excuse for a day trip. As June becomes reluctantly involved she discovers that she means more to those people than she could have suspected and that she had friends all along, she just hadn’t let them in.
Whilst light-hearted, there are some sombre moments. June has to realise that the grief she has carried for her mother for the last decade has made her stagnate. She struggles with knowing that she has to move forward but she feels like if she does she will betray her mum. She’s also at a loss as to what to do, having coasted for so long. There are also the library users, Chantal, who can’t study at home, Jackson who is home-schooled and relies on the library for his education and Mrs B, who seems to chiefly use the library to complain. Then there’s Stanley. June learns more about the quiet old gentleman who visits the library every day to send emails to his son in the US. As the story unfolds, June realises she knows more about the people she sees every day than she realised, and that they see her as a friend.
There are some lovely moments, particularly when June is unwittingly drawn in to a sit in protest at the library. The disparate group of library users soon gather momentum and help foster a sense of community that was beginning to be lost. The relationship that develops between June and the elderly Stan is also a pleasure to read.
A lovely, warm, engaging tale about friendship, letting go, finding yourself and of course books.
I look forward to reading more from Freya Sampson in the future.