24 Oct

Going back to Lyra’s Oxford

When I was a full-time employee, I would manage to read a few books each year, often on the train. Since working from home and spending much of the day reading for work, the inclination (and time) to read for pleasure seems to have deserted me.  For the past 18 months I’ve had three half-read books dotted around the house, creating guilt trips every time I come across them (a biography of TE Lawrence, the story of Henrietta Lacks and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies – I devoured Wolf Hall in a few days…)

At the turn of the millennium, for two Christmas holidays running, I tucked myself away in my parents’ Edwardian house and fell into the world of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s masterful trilogy of Northern Lights, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife. I’ve never had the remotest interest in reading any of the Harry Potter books, but adore Pullman’s story telling. I concur with his views on organised religions, am a lifelong ailurophile and take pleasure in watching the local birdlife (in SW Herts we are blessed with an abundance of red kites), so found his settings and the idea of daemons immediately bewitching.

Although there was a little intermediate treat in the form of Lyra’s Oxford, I experienced child-like excitement again upon hearing about the Book of Dust, a new trilogy. The first part, La Belle Sauvage, is a prequel, setting the scene for how Lyra grew up as an orphan at Jordan College; the next two are due to be set 10 years on from the end of HDM.

I bought La Belle Sauvage the day after it came out, started it on the Friday, and finished it in the early hours of Monday morning. Apart from perhaps one slightly weak/strange section it was a fantastic read (with adult themes and language) and the experience was like being reunited with a long-lost friend. My sadness at finishing it has been assuaged by Simon Russell Beale’s reading of it as the ‘book at bedtime’ on Radio 4 this week, and my realisation that I had never got round to reading the other ‘teaser’ book, Once Upon a Time in the North. Guess what I’m doing tonight?

I’m hoping that the Oxford English Dictionary will also add a lovely new word – teawards. As in, ‘Her thoughts turned teawards.’ Tea and Philip Pullman; what better combination?