Hazel McHaffie


It’s always a thrill to hear people are enthused by books, but I’ve been especially touched and rather overwhelmed by the response to the bookcase we set up at the beginning of lockdown. Remember this?

It’s still going strong five months on; the wood has been bleached by the sun and rain, but hundreds of books have come and gone, thanks to the generosity and appetite of strangers, and I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve expressed enthusiasm for the enterprise. Cards and scribbled notes have been popped through the letter box; wee gifts have been left at the door. And shining through the messages, verbal and written, is a heartfelt appreciation for the healing power of reading:

I suffer from depression and my partner works shifts so I’m on my own a lot … your books really helped me to get through.

Love, love, love your little library!

I do a detour round this way just to see what books there are now.

It was great to have a purpose to my daily walk and a sense of excitement to see what would be new!

You’ve saved my sanity!

A very big thank you for keeping me sane with books from your lovely bookcase.

Every time we have passed your house we have also seen someone excited to see what book there is. We have seen children’s faces light up as they exclaim,’ There’s a Harry Potter book, Mummy!’ and that brightens our day. We pass most days and always find something interesting.

An added bonus is finding books left that I want to read myself. But this week there was an intriguing discovery. One of the books, The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies, had a sticker inside saying it was registered in a special scheme: Bookcrossing. Completely new to me. And irresistible:

If you love books let them go!

We’re helping to make the world a library, and you’ve caught a travelling book. Enter the BICD below and see where this book has been. Make a brief journal entry, then keep its dream alive … Read and Release it!

So, of course, I did – read and released and filled in the journal for this book’s travels. And discovered that thousands of books are circulating with journal entries tracking their progress. Who knew?!

The Sapphire Widow was readable too – apparently it was a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick in 2018! The year is 1935. The setting is Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). Louisa Reeve is young, prosperous, rich; daughter of a successful gem-trader; wife of the handsome reformed gambler, and thrill-seeker, Elliot. They seem like the couple who have everything they could want – except a child. After two miscarriages, and a stillborn baby, Julia, Louisa becomes haunted by these ‘lost children’. (My kind of territory!) Her husband does his best to make her feel treasured, but gradually she becomes aware that all is not well. He is increasingly absent. Shadows fall over her charmed life.

Then, on the night of their twelfth wedding anniversary party, a police inspector arrives and shatters her hopes for ever: Elliot has been killed in a car accident. But … he was far from where he said he would be, driving someone else’s car. Why? And why did he lie? From that moment life unravels for Louisa – everything Elliot had told her, is emerging as a tissue of lies; all her memories contaminated by doubt.

Leo McNairn is the owner of Cinnamon Hills, the plantation Elliot had claimed he had shares in, and it falls to him to tell Louisa about her husband’s secret life. Had the love between them ever been real? Her life, her marriage, her dreams for the future, lie in shreds at her feet.

Parts of the plot were less well-realised than others, tension fizzles too quickly for my taste, problems are too suddenly resolved, but I enjoyed the evocative way the author captures smells, colours, textures, sounds, temperatures, bringing this exotic part of the world to life. And I’m happy to send this book out on its travels for someone else to pick up. I shall await news of its voyages with interest.

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