Excerpt from The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Chance Library

by Freya Sampson

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson X
The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson
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    Aug 2021, 336 pages

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The microwave pinged, making her jump. She fetched the lasagna and spooned it onto a plate, adding a few slices of cucumber as a garnish. Sitting down, she picked up her book. It was battered and worn from years of reading, the words Pride and Prejudice on the front cover barely legible now. Carefully, she opened it to read the inscription: 18th June 2005. To my darling Junebug. Happiest of twelfth birthdays. You are never alone when you have a good book. All my love, Mum xx

June ate a mouthful of food, turned to the first page, and began to read.


CHAPTER TWO

"Alan Bennett, where the hell are you?"

It was Saturday morning and June couldn't find him anywhere. She'd searched the house and the shed and had even checked in the loft in case he'd gone up there looking for something, but to no avail.

"Come on, Alan, the joke's over," she called, but the house answered with willful silence.

June put a piece of bread in the toaster and switched on the kettle. She listened to the slow hiss of water boiling and tried to ignore the simmering sensation in her stomach. The weekend stretched ahead of her, long and gloriously empty. But while the prospect of all those hours of solitary reading time usually filled her with joy, this morning June felt jumpy. In her decade working at the library, she'd always managed to avoid taking Rhyme Time, or indeed any activity where she had to speak in front of a group of people. And now, on Monday, she'd have to stand up in front of dozens of children and their carers, talking and singing songs and entertaining them like ...

June took a mouthful of toast but it felt like cardboard in her mouth, and she pushed her plate aside.

Five minutes later, she sat down on the sofa with a thick, dog-eared copy of War and Peace. It was a novel that June had tried and failed to read several times before, but at more than one thousand pages it was the perfect project to distract her this weekend. Besides, it was a book that her mum had loved, and for that reason June had always felt guilty that she'd never managed to finish it. She lifted up the paperback and held it to her nose, inhaling the reassuring aroma of aged paper and dust. But there was another scent there too, a base note of soap and the faintest hint of smoke. June closed her eyes and allowed herself to imagine her mum sitting next to her, legs tucked under her body in the way she'd always liked to curl up, the book on her lap and an ashtray balanced on the arm of the sofa. The two of them had spent hundreds of weekends like this, side by side in contented silence, interrupted occasionally by her mother's throaty laugh at something within the pages. The memory of it made June's chest ache with longing, and she opened the book and started to read.

She was about thirty pages in when the doorbell rang. For a brief moment June wondered if it was the postman delivering a pile of birthday cards that had been forgotten yesterday, but she told herself off for even entertaining such a ridiculous thought.

As June opened the front door, she was confronted by the sight of her next-door neighbor, Linda, wearing a fuchsia dress and a huge pair of gold earrings. Linda was obsessed with Barbara Cartland novels and always dressed as if some dashing duke was about to turn up and whisk her away from Chalcot, even at nine in the morning. In her arms was an indignant-looking Alan Bennett.

"Look who I found hiding in my airing cupboard, the sneaky little bugger."

Alan let out a hiss of rage and sprang from Linda's grip.

"I'm so sorry, Linda. I've been looking everywhere for him."

"No bother. You're not busy, are you?" Before June could reply, Linda had bustled in through the door and made her way into the living room, calling back, "No milk for me-I'm doing Slimming World."

June made tea in two chipped mugs and carried them through, where she found Linda sprawled on the sofa, leafing through War and Peace.

Excerpted from The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson. Copyright © 2021 by Freya Sampson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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