Does anything beat that moment when you realise a favourite author has a new book out? I was so excited when I saw that Jean M Auel’s extraordinary Earth’s Children™ series was at last coming to an end with The Land of Painted Caves, but I have to admit that the damning reviews on Amazon gave me pause. I passed up on the hardback, which I would otherwise have bought, but picked up the paperback the other day and last night plodded to the end.
Sadly, the reviews were justified. This was such a disappointing end to a series that started so spectacularly. The Clan of the Cave Bear is an amazing feat of imagination and I have bored friends for years about it. Auel takes the little evidence we have for the people who lived during the last Ice Age and creates an utterly convincing world so that by the time you get to the end, you feel that life then must have been exactly like that. Isn’t that what we want from a historical novel?
I first read Clan of the Cave Bear in Jakarta in 1984. All of us in the house read it and passed it on, and by the time it was my turn, I’d heard so much about it, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I read it on this verandah, with the rain hammering down on the roof, and I only have to look at the cover now to be transported back to that wicker chair and the stifling heat and the cries of the street sellers pushing their carts along the gang outside the gate.
Lots of my favourite books are associated with places. Georgette Heyer makes me think of the outback Queensland. Bizarre, I know, but I used to have a couple of hours off after lunch when it was too hot to go outside, and there just happened to be a shelf of books including hers in my room.
I read my first Mary Stewart – This Rough Magic – in an big attic room I shared with my cousins and brothers in Scotland one wet summer holiday. The roof was unlined, so there were just splintery rafters over head, and the boys played James Taylor’s Rockabye Sweet Baby James endlessly at the other end of the room.
The first Mills & Boon I really enjoyed was called Devil Within, by Catherine George, and I read that in Raffles Hotel in Singapore on my way back to Jakarta. (That was a “light bulb moment” for me. Until then, I’d only ever read them as a kind of joke, wrinkling my nose at those heroes who threw the heroine across the bed while she was shrieking ‘Damn you!’ but she ended up loving it really. Devil Within made me realise that a romance didn’t have to be tacky.) I’ve still got that copy and I can’t read it without thinking about that old fashioned room with the ceiling fan slapping overhead.
Of course, I’ve got lots of favourite books that I’ve read at home, but they don’t have the same associations. There’s something about being away, when you’re already in a different world, and you get transported to yet another, that burns the whole experience of reading into your mind.
Do you have any books that instantly remind you of where you first read them?