The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories
The Loss Library
with illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee
Seagull Books, 2012
People give me their papers. The reason is obvious: I hoard such enormous quantities of my own. My house looks like a public library or some archive of the ordinary; I cannot get rid of a book or throw away a receipt from Pick n Pay. What difference will another little stack of documents make? I am like an animal lover who gets a reputation for taking in strays. Need a home for a scrawny kitten, a lame dog, a blind parrot? Don’t take it to the SPCA – they’ll put it down as soon as you’re out the door – give it to him. The book lover.
Of course, there’s more to it than storage. These papers are entrusted to me, placed in my care and assigned as my responsibility. People put their papers in my hands because they want me to read them, think about them, edit them or otherwise reorder them, and write about them. They would like me to make something of their leavings.
More than twenty years ago, Louis Fehler (not his real name) left me his papers to look after while he went abroad, travelling light, and then promptly died. I’ve been carrying his blue trommel around with me ever since, packed with outlines of novels, biographical notes and other things, and have yet to squeeze more than a few lines of prose from them.
The case of Dr T is much worse. I came by his trunks ten years ago shortly after he passed away. I brought this burden on myself. I’d had my eye on his disjecta membra (the lovely Latin for ‘severed limbs’) for years before he died, and when I was offered a look inside the caskets by his guardian and heir, I more or less insisted on taking them over, voetstoots.
Hedley Twidle on The Loss Library and other things
See the article at www.publicbooks.org