I was visiting Ali back in September (it must have been my first visit after she moved into her lovely new flat, actually) and she, as is her wont, pressed this upon me, telling me I’d like it. Into the TBR it went, as it did look good, and I had someone in mind I could pass it on to afterwards, too, and then, when I was looking for wintry reads for this month and had decided to dart around in the TBR to pick some out, there it was! This is my last wintry read (well, until I start in on Annabel’s Nordic FINES challenge in January) as I’ve picked up a British Library Women Writers novel to read next, and have two Dean Street Press reads to get to, too (hooray!).

Ruth Thomas – “The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line”

(10 September 2021, from Ali)

I did see some Barbara Pym comparisons in the review bits at the front of this, but I trusted Ali and her knowledge of my taste so pressed on into it. And yes, it is quite Pymmish, and in the deadpan tone of the writing a bit Comyns-y (without the yuck factor), or Dodie Smith’s adult books or Victoria Clayton, who does that well, too. So I was already primed to like it from the first page.

Sybil is as we meet her a young woman working in a slightly fusty museum as a finds cataloguer, living with a fussy man who’s really into peculiar grains and special cooking. It’s a funny life but it’s OK, until 1) Sibyl’s ex-university tutor, Helen, swishes back into her life, working for an organisation that helps museums get into the modern world, gunning for a position on the trustees’ board and pushing her own, slightly dodgy research and – worse, and this is so funny – trying to sell a line of cups inspired by the actual Beaker People. Soon she’s got her claws into both the Institute and Sibyl’s boyfriend, and while Sibyl tries to recover from a freak skating accident and is not sure what’s real and what’s a feature of her head injury, worms her way in, gets rid of bits of the museum, puts people’s backs up, gets all over the telly and generally makes a nuisance of herself.

Sibyl visits her slightly comedy parents in slightly comedy Norfolk, moves in with a well-meaning but rather brisk old friend and takes a poetry course that is supposed to be “for the terrified” but is actually terrifying. The scenes there are marvellous. She also meets a librarian, Bill, who might be able to help her in all sorts of ways if she’ll just let him. Spanning academic conference dinners, a never-ending indexing job and dusty archival corners, the setting is right up my street and Sibyl a charming if unreliable heroine.

For something that sounds character-led and looks a bit chick-litty, it’s literary and plot-driven, well-written, and also very fun, but warm. Highly recommended, and thank you, Ali, for foisting it onto me in the first place!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 28/85 – 57 to go (possibly, let’s wait till I lay them out on the floor again on 1 January!)