Once upon a time I had all six of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books and I loved them even if it was a long time since I read them. Last year when I started to catalogue my books I realised that at some point six had become three – there was a general wailing and gnashing of teeth. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the three that disappeared had been three that fitted nicely into one of the omnibuses, or if they were still generally in print, or if they came up regularly in second hand shops.
None of these things being the case and there always being a long list of unread (by me) books to acquire when I hit second hand sights coupled with a job that currently just about pays the mortgage and very little else I was beginning to think it would be a very very long time before all the Mapp and Lucia’s would be lined up, ducks in a row, on my bookshelf again. Then happy day I saw a copy of ‘Miss Mapp’ in the same black swan imprint as my remaining volumes for a meagre £1.50 in a charity shop. After I went home to check it was a missing one, and then went back before the shop opened the next day to stand on the doorstep in the freezing cold for quarter of an hour risking missing my work bus in the process I finally got the prize (and to work).
After a weekend battling with Sofia Tolstoy I couldn’t resist taking refuge in a bit of Benson and so started to read and haven’t wanted to stop since. I got through ‘Miss Mapp’ and have moved on to ‘Mapp and Lucia’. I think if I go without cups of tea at work for the rest of the month than I can safely order the final missing two without bouncing a single cheque so that’s what I’m going to do. (As an aside being poor is becoming really very tiresome – I would really like the chance to try something different now.)
I was trying to remember when I last read these books – I think I would have been about sixteen which seems young now to be reading about the social machinations of middle age ladies. I know I loved these books and at that age I tended to read and re read a book to death but somehow the Benson’s are in remarkably good shape and better yet I find I don’t remember much of the detail. Tilling is familiar but to all intents and purposes I could be reading these books for the first time – and happily it’s one of those meetings with a childhood friend where I find we still like each other and there are no awkward silences.