The Last Library is Freya Sampson’s debut novel and it’s a wonderful read. It came out in paperback at the end of March and the good news is that her second novel, The Girl on the 88 Bus, was published just last week. I can’t wait to read that one too.
About the book
You can tell a lot about a person from the library books they borrow
Lonely library assistant June is much more comfortable with books than people. When her mum – the beloved local librarian – passed away, June stepped into her shoes.
But shy June has always felt that she could never live up to her mum’s legacy. Instead, she’s retreated into herself, surviving on takeaways-for-one and her favourite stories.
When the library is threatened with closure, June is distraught. Yet when a ragtag band of eccentric but dedicated locals establish the Friends of Chalcot Library campaign, June is forbidden from joining their cause.
If June wants to save the place that means so much to her, she’ll have to make some bold changes to her life: opening up her heart to friendship, opportunities and maybe even more . . .
Saving public libraries seems to be quite an common theme in books this year. (I shared my review of The Library by Bella Osborne just last week.) I think this is the third one I’ve read where a library is under threat of closure. Sadly this is probably because it’s happening all too often in the real world.
With council funding stretched, smaller libraries in particular are being closed or seeing their hours reduced or only being kept open because of volunteers. This book shows just how important libraries are to many people and for so many different reasons. And as one of the regulars Mrs B asks, how can you put a cost value on all that a library provides? Talking of Mrs B, she was hilarious! I’m a Mrs B myself but a little less confrontational. I really liked all the characters that Freya Sampson created here from elderly Stanley whose story brought a lump to the throat, to head librarian Marjorie who finally stood up for herself, to young Chantal doing her best to get through her exams and of course June herself.
For librarian June it’s a place of refuge, a place she feels close to her late mum who was librarian before her, a place full of memories. She has very little self confidence but feels safe and secure in the routines of her work and the familiarity of her regular customers/clients. She’s definitely more at home among books and enjoys reading about characters’ adventures more than having any herself in real life.
At the back of the book, some of the publishing team involved with the book share their memories of libraries so I’d like to do the same. My first library was Leith Library (in Edinburgh), a grand old building from the 1930s still used as a library today. I used to go with my dad every week and had the little orange tickets that the librarian stuck the book ticket inside. You could only take out three books at a time. My dad was an avid reader too and I think that’s where I got my love of reading from. My most vivid memory of the library was that I dropped a book in the bath and was terrified to take it back. It was Flat Stanley so Stanley was not only flat but soggy too! The librarians of course were lovely about the damaged book and I didn’t get into terrible trouble. I also remember the excitement of ‘graduating’ to adult tickets which the librarian let me do sooner than I should have as I’d read my way through the children’s section. The joy of having all those shelves to browse through. These days my local library is Portobello Library. It’s not in such a grand building but it’s a great library with brilliant staff and lots going on, including our local book festival in September.
If you are someone who loves your local library and recognises its importance then this is a book for you. If you are someone who’s not sure what goes on in a library these days, then read this book and find out more. The Last Library is an uplifting and heart-warming read about finding your confidence and standing up for what matters. It’s one of my favourite books of this year.
About the Author
Freya Sampson works in TV and was the executive producer of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed and Gogglesprogs. She studied History at Cambridge University and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize. She lives in London with her husband, two young children and an antisocial cat.