Last May we had dinner with a comic who reads a lot and his wife. At one point, he told Catriona that he had just finished a novel that he had enjoyed more than anything he had read for a very long time and he would like to lend it to her. He disappeared into the house to fetch it, and returned empty-handed and cross. His wife confessed that she was reading it and hadn’t quite finished. His wife loves to watch telly more than read novels, so this was a surprise. And here she was refusing point-blank to give this one back because she hadn’t finished it. The comic was furious; she was obdurate. Catriona could have the book when she had finished it and not before.
A few days later the novel appeared on a bookshelf in the house, lying sideways. It was a hardback called All the Light We Cannot See. Catriona was busy all summer and didn’t get around to opening it. So it stayed there on the shelf next to the mantelpiece, at eye level if one was sitting on the sofa. When the book caught my attention from time to time I would despise it for its title alone. Never, ever, will I read a novel called All the Light We Cannot See, I thought, not even if I was paid to. If it were a book of Christian or Buddhist apologetics called All the Light We Cannot See, I might glance through it. But a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times ‘novel of the year’, never. I refused even to touch it. Once, with nothing better to do, however, I did pick it up and read the dust cover’s front and back, and its inside flaps. The Pulitzer Prize citation quoted there said the book ‘illustrated the ways, against all odds, that people try to be good to one another’.
Last month Catriona was invited to join a local book club.