In the local library, which I visit once a week, they have a Mystery Book on the Issues counter. It is hidden inside a plain white A4 envelope. On four consecutive Saturdays, I have been able to resist.
This week I cracked. I had to have it.
They wouldn’t let me have the Mystery Book on the counter. Underneath the desk, there is a pile of plain white envelopes. I get the one on the top, and leave the library without opening it.
I’m expecting a middle-brow novel. It would be great to have a handbook on gyro-copter mechanics, or a guide to the sacrificial customs of Ancient Mesopatamia. However, I can’t quite believe a library will let its mystery books be as mysterious as that. I’m betting on a middle-brow novel or perhaps a safe biography, someone like Mary Queen of Scots or Lenny Henry.
They call it the Lucky Dip. I open my white A4 envelope. It is a novel called The Clematis Tree, by Ann Widdecombe. I guess I’m just lucky.
No, really. I would never have chosen this book for myself. And I mean never in the sense of never ever ever never ever. That’s the whole point. The Lucky Dip worked – I have a blind book date that I’d never have chosen with my eyes open.
I think it’s safe to say that as a politician Ann Widdecombe made no great effort to be liked, and effortlessly succeeded . She carries the same gung-ho attitude into her author’s biog: ‘[She] writes her novels on long train journeys and in Singapore, when she visits her Chinese nanny.’
This is the secret I’ve been searching for, and which so far I’ve been unable to share with the students at the Academy. No Chinese nanny, no published novel.
I’m looking forward to giving it a go, though I’ve now reconsidered the selection policy of the librarians as they scout round the shelves with their fresh white envelopes. The Clematis Tree has not been stamped (it was inside an envelope), nor has the bar code been scanned. Maybe they only pick books that no-one would want to steal.