Today the library is staffed by the author Alison Baillie, whose first book, Sewing the Shadows Together has been a critical success, commensurate with its gestation over three decades. Alison has taught English in Scotland, Switzerland and Finland; her taste for Scottish and Scandi crime fiction, coupled with some high-profile real life murders which caught her curiosity, led to a novel which spans the hemispheres. I’m delighted that she has shared her choices with us, and here they are:
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg
In the early nineties I read this book, which I think was the first Scandinavian novel I’d come across. It started my love of Nordic Noir and my fascination with the landscape and culture of Scandinavia.
I can still remember the day I read it. I was ill in bed and looked around for a book I hadn’t read yet. Somebody had given it to me so I picked it up without having any idea of what to expect. As soon as I started it I was totally drawn into Miss Smilla’s world and read it in one day.
From the moment of the mysterious death of a boy in Copenhagen I was intrigued by the plot, the enigmatic personality of Miss Smilla and especially the cold unfamiliar landscape of Greenland. It was so vivid that I was transported to this wild strange land which for that one day became more real than my bedroom. It made me want to visit Greenland, and although I’ve been to every other Scandinavian country I haven’t made it there yet. It still remains on my wish list and I hope I’ll be able to go there one day.
Child’s Play by Reginald Hill
My mother was a great reader of detective novels and introduced me to Reginald Hill in the eighties, long before the series based on his writing appeared on television. I loved the characters, Dalziel, Pascoe, Wieldy and Ellie, the north of England settings, and especially the skill and humour of Hill’s writing.
As soon as each book came out I bought it and still have all of them on my bookshelves (more than one shelf as there are a lot of them!) His was the first detective series I’d read. Afterwards I discovered my all-time hero, Ian Rankin, who I read is also a fan of Reginald Hill.
I wondered which of his books to choose for this feature and when I was looking at the bookshelves this one leapt out at me. One memorable line in it still makes me laugh. I won’t quote as it’s a spoiler, but everyone should read this wonderful witty and engaging police procedural.
Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman
I remember buying this book in a station bookshop and reading it on the train journey sometime in the seventies. It was brilliantly-written and although I’d never been to New York I could identify so much with the main character, a wife and mother suffocated by a marriage with an insensitive social-climbing husband. She kept her sanity by recording her thoughts, fears and frustrations with her daily life in a diary.
Later when I was also in an unhappy marriage I went back to this book and found it a strangely comforting read which I kept next to my bed. I recently reread it and was amazed how fresh and relevant the writing is, despite the book being fifty years old. I then found out about the tragic life of the writer, something I’d been totally unaware of before, which made the story even more poignant.