A very good novel can make a Mexican bus journey pass very quickly

One thing about travelling, especially in a country where English is not widely spoken, you really do need to take your reading matter with you. I have resisted the temptation to get a Kindle, and have stuck with my very heavy breviary, and have brought a few books with me. Just before setting out, I had nothing to read, so I visited the best bookshop I know, Camilla’s in Eastbourne. It is a secondhand bookshop which occupies a whole house quite near the station, just opposite Our Lady of Ransom. The owner sits at his desk in the main room downstairs, surrounded by his stock, literally walled in by books, so he is quite hard to spot. One has the impression of walking into a quite silent almost sacred space, until one is taken by the suprise of seeing the owner sitting in quiet contemplation of his books.

I told him that I would have liked to buy far more than the twenty or so books I was able to carry away. “You can have the whole lot for a million quid,” he said levelly. That would work out at about a little more than two pounds a volume, I suppose.

Camilla’s does not specialise as such, as far as I can see, though there is a whole room more or less dedicated to militaria, and there were plenty of Books of Common Prayer, but no old Missals. There is a whole room in the cellar that I missed (I will save it till another time) which contains Latin texts. The poetry is excellent. I have been trying to make up for my previous neglect of the great Victorian poets, whom I somehow wiggled out of reading at University: with me in Mexico I have two manageable volumes containing the complete works of Keats and Byron, ideal companions for solitary meals in restaurants.

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But two jewels I must share. The first is a novel from the Thirties by Anthony Powell, entitled Agents and Patients. I am a huge fan of his twelve novel roman fleuve, A Dance to the Music of Time, but had never untill now read his “single” works. This is something that has to be rectified. Agents and Patients is two hundred pages of sheer delight, a laugh out loud book, somehwhat reminiscent of Aldous Huxley, but unlike Huxley, actually funny.

The other gem was an old Penguin of a novel I read in my youth, Wise Virgin, by AN Wilson. There is nothing better than rereading a novel that you enjoyed decades ago and finding it even better than the last time. Few authors can actually do this – I have recently been rereading Dickens and finding him disappointingly thin – but AN Wilson lives up the memory of just how good he was first time round. Thanks to Wise Virgin a very long bus jounrey between Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende passed very rapidly indeed.

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