“Sorry mate” he said, barely looking up from his paper, “I must get three or four people a week in ‘ere asking for ’emingway so I would know if we ‘ad any”.
And with that he was gone, lost again to yesterday’s Post, leaving me to make my own way out.
I don’t know why I first began searching for it. Perhaps it was the age old call of the one that got away, or maybe it was simply some innate stubbornness which drives ideas like this round and round and round my head like a child who knows that you’ve got sweets in your pocket and won’t leave you alone until you dip your hand in and pull one out for them.
Eliot. Fitzgerald. Golding. Hardy. Joyce.
It must have been about a year ago now that it caught my eye. We had just got off the boat and the harbourside market was in full swing. A jazz quartet were playing their hearts out in spite of the wind which carried the frantic tones of the double bass off far down the river. The book stalls are always the first thing you see, before you reach the slightly too artsy jewellery, the slightly too expensive toys, and the slightly too tempting cakes. It was on the first stall and for some reason I picked it up. £4 seemed a lot for such a small book so I put it back down. A couple of hours later when we passed by on the way back to the ferry it was gone.
“Sorry love,” she said (you can fill in the Essex accent yourself if you’d like), “we get so many books in here I never know if they’re coming or going. Besides I only do Tuesdays, rest of the week I’m up at the caff.”
It’s not like I was a big fan before. I’d only read A Moveable Feast because it was set in Paris and I was going through one of my frequent Francophile phases at the time. I didn’t even finish it.
It was £1.88 on Amazon. two clicks and it would be mine but somehow that didn’t seem right. I didn’t just want to read the book, I wanted to find it.
I wouldn’t say it became an obsession, but it was always there at the back of my mind. I can never walk past a second hand bookshop anyway so it was nice to have a purpose to my visits. The longer it went on the more determined I was to find it and the anticipation was almost addictive, knowing that every bookshop I passed might contain it but that most wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say it became an obsession, but…
Shirehampton. Clifton. Shrewsbury. Whitchurch. Doncaster. Wellington. Clifton. Margate. London. Clifton. Bristol. Portishead. Clifton.
After a while you begin to appreciate the differences. Some are alphabetical, others random. Most are somewhere in between, the remains of a decaying order long spoilt by careless browsing and unenthusiastic filing.
“If we do have it it ought to be over in that corner” he suggested, hesitantly. “would you like me to come and have a look for you?”
I reassured him that I would be alright by myself and followed his directions, trying to ignore his anxious gaze which followed me across the room like a concerned parent on the first day of school.
In the end it was almost an anticlimax. I went in looking for something else entirely (a dragon, as it happens) and glanced over to see it nestled between Jo Nesbo and a Charles Dickens study guide. I paid my £2 and popped it into my bag. Lucie probably didn’t even notice. I felt like I ought to mark the occasion somehow but instead I just put my hat on and slipped out of the shop into the wind and the rain and a day which somehow seemed a little brighter.
I haven’t read it yet and I don’t know when I will start.
I hope it lives up to the hype.