As the main protagonist Hannah muses, as she drives her mobile library around Finfarran Peninsula, the books in her van, bridge the whole of human history from the beginnings of the written word to the latest best seller, a testimony to the human need to connect to others, evidenced too, by the discovery of a rasher of bacon, in a returned copy of a Maeve Binchy novel, left by a butcher, who perhaps perused the book his wife borrowed from the library.
Of course libraries and their books are adapting to a changing world as we discuss when I catch up with Irish author Felicity Hayes-McCoy, author of ‘The Library at the Edge of the World’. Changing times are highlighted early on in the book as the protagonist Hannah reminisces about her childhood, when her parents operated the central, combined post office/family store, now replaced by the big supermarkets that offer petrol discounts on their receipts.
Even in a world of changing technology books continue to flourish and bring people together. The novel is the story of Hannah Casey who, after her marriage break up over her husband’s affair, returns home to her mother’s house in Ireland’s fictional Finfarran Peninsula, the very place she happily left for a life in London. Meanwhile Hannah’s grown daughter Jazz or Jasmine has established her own life, ironically enjoying the big city life her mother now has left behind as she flies around the world as a flight attendant.
Things look up for Hannah when the aptly named house repairman, Fury helps her renovate the old house her father’s aunt left to her and so provide her with a home of her own.
Hannah’s mobile library provides an integral part of the community keeping isolated readers with few opportunities for social interaction in contact with the world.
Trouble ensues when the library becomes under threat of closure. Hannah formerly a stickler for the old fashioned version of the library rules of silence, suddenly realises the importance of the modern libraries role as places for social meetings, for young mums and the elderly to make social connections as well as learn.
It is a higher power in the form of a nun and ultimately the power of a book, albeit of a more ancient variety that bring the community together to save the library from closure.
The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes–McCoy is out now published by Hachette.