Inspiring Older Readers
It must be out there somewhere....?
I love the power of serendipity when I’m out looking for books. Stumbling across a book you didn’t know you wanted – or a book you didn’t even know existed – is somewhere near the top of my list of enjoyable life experiences. But there are times when I read or hear about a book that so captures my interest or curiosity that I’m prepared to hunt for it in a systematic, almost obsessive, way. Just browsing the bookshops within my reasonable geographic orbit stops being enough and in these circumstances I’m more than happy to use any electronic search engine I can think of. And, I have to say, not being able to find any hint of a copy anywhere, at any price is a stinging frustration.
The latest book to tease me in this fashion is Margot Bennett’s The Long Way Back. Originally published in 1954, this is one of Bennett’s occasional flirtations with ‘science fiction’ – or, as I would prefer – ‘future fiction’ and deals with a set of remarkably provocative ideas. Sonia Mullett on the Holdfast website provides a tempting summation of the plot:
“In The Long Way Back, Bennett presents a dystopian post nuclear-war future. The global North has long since been laid to waste and now history is poised to repeat itself as a nuclear-armed Africa competes, Cold War-style, with South America. A team of African scientists is dispatched to the little-known British Isles to seek out exploitable resources – a case of colonial history in reverse. It soon becomes evident that, if Britain proves rich in coal and other assets, the new imperialists will show about as much consideration to the island’s indigenous population (stuck in a stultifying stone-age of wild killer dogs, mutant ants and homicidal cavemen) as they do to the poverty stricken white Boers back home.”
Colonialism and sexual politics also emerge as key themes according to Mullett and, given the remarkably contemporary nature of the themes she is tackling, I can only agree with her when she writes “ it’s still a surprise to discover that most of her books, though inventive and respected by critics, are out of print.”
I first heard about the book as I was listening to an edition of the BBC Radio 4 film programme in which one of the contributors pitched the out-of-print The Long Way Back as their choice for a perfect film project. My interest was piqued sufficiently for me to start looking for copies online and I fully expected to find something – but perhaps not a first edition. But every avenue I went down ended in frustration.
And so, somehow, what started as a search for a book that might be divertingly unusual – I’m a sucker for ‘lost classics’ – has become something of a mission. I just can’t let it go.
Every week I check all the online bookselling sites hoping that someone has popped one up for sale and whenever I go into a second hand bookshop I have to check ‘Bennett’ in the fiction section before I can relax and browse in comfort. Somehow the book has become mythic, an unattainable Grail.
But, what I also know is that when and if I find this object of desire I will soon replace it with another, different, impossible title to find. But, if by any slim chance, anyone reads this and can point me in the direction of Margot Bennett’s The Long Way Back, I’d love to hear from you……