The Last Library by Freya Sampson
|The Last Library by Freya Sampson|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: A colourful cast of village characters help to make this a warm-hearted tale that's bookish and sweet.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: September 2021|
|External links: Author's website|
I am always a little nervous to start a story about a library, since I am a librarian. I always grit my teeth slightly at the thought of the incoming cardigan-wearing, hair in a bun, cat-owning, glasses on a chain stereotypes! In this story, the main character, June, does put her hair in a bun, and she does own a cat (called Alan Bennett), and she has barely any friends and spends her evenings eating the same Chinese takeaway meal once a week whilst reading books alone! But I didn't immediately throw the book out of the window, because I found I was interested in June, and why she lived as she did. Her mum used to be a librarian at the village library, but when she got sick, June gave up on going to University and stayed at home to take care of her mum, as well as taking on a job as library assistant at the local library. And even though her mum sadly died some years ago, she is still working there, still eating her mum's favourite takeaway meal, and still reading her mum's old books. June is stuck, but little does she know, everything in her life is about the change.
The story sees June learn that the council plan to close six of the areas local libraries, including the branch where she works. Horror-struck at the thought of the building she has spent so much of her life in being closed, she finds herself firstly unable to speak up to defend the library, and then she is told she cannot join the village campaign to save it as she could potentially lose her job. Meanwhile, her neighbour is trying to encourage her to get rid of some of her mum's old things, and make the house her own, as well as hoping that June will start coming out more, and meeting people and making some friends.
I felt the author approached the issues of library closures with a great deal of understanding. We've already lost hundreds of libraries across the UK, and the impact on local communities can be far-reaching. Sampson's small group of characters demonstrate the range of uses and activities going on in local libraries, and how much people depend upon them, and how life-changing they can be. The story manages to get all this across without being preachy. I really enjoyed the villagers' campaigns to save the library, which manage to be both funny and moving.
June's journey is also interesting and moving to read. She is so very, very scared at the beginning, feeling that she has nothing worthwhile to give or to say, and lacking the courage to use her voice to help all the people she cares about. I did want to shake her a couple of times at the start when her social anxiety just looks like such dreadful rudeness to people who care about her! But overall it was nice to see her very, very slowly take steps towards living her own life, and discovering who she actually wanted to be. I really enjoyed her conversations with Alex, and the way that story line develops.
Add to all this a dodgy councillor, a sweet guy from June's past helping his dad out in the local takeaway and coming to June for book recommendations, an old school frenemy's hen party, and a delightful, elderly gentleman, alongside many other village members, and you have a cleverly woven, intriguing story. The range of characters is really well done, with their own interesting back stories which link through into the main plot. There are literary references for those of us who love books about books, and there are moments of humour, as well as moments of real sadness. I disagreed with one of the characters who declares Nigella recipe books are no good for baking (they are!) but as she wasn't the librarian, I'll forgive it!
The whole book is a really charming, warm-hearted read, and I especially liked the range of characters we meet. I did want to note that there is some swearing from one of the characters, and although I understand why in relation to who that person is, I personally felt it jarred with the overall tone of the book. But otherwise, this is a gentle, sweet story about grief, love and finding your voice.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Library by Freya Sampson at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Library by Freya Sampson at Amazon.com.
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