Have you ever read a book that everyone in the known world seems to be going crazy for and you just…don’t get it. It doesn’t happen to me often. I’m a total Potterhead, have genuine fond feelings for Bridget Jones, think Margaret Atwood is a bonafide genius and Twilight? I could not get enough of Twilight. Hashtag Team Edward. But the new book of the moment is a book club read called One Thousand Tiny Dreams of Kindness by a guy called Peter Hannigan. My god is it ever RUBBISH. There’s no plot, for a start. And I know that literary fiction is all about the lyrical beauty of the prose and the themes and the ideas and all that, but this one doesn’t even have any of that. It’s badly written and indulgent and ugh. I can feel my face getting red just thinking about it. And the author is a kind of Twitter celebrity. He’s on there all the time spouting about the importance of kindness in this really patronising way. Like people don’t know how to be kind and he’s the only person who can show us. The fact that his novel is currently the bestselling book in the UK is winding me up. Do I sound mental for getting so worked up about a book that loads of other people seem to adore? That’s because I see a gazillion copies it every single freaking day. I work in the London flagship of Jones & Winchester Books so I have to see this book, touch this book, sell this book to customers approximately twenty five gazillion times per day. All the customers want to talk about it. Everyone wants to order it for their friends. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
I should come clean... I’m a writer myself. Well, I would be if I ever got around to writing something other than my shopping list or texts to my room-mate Millicent to remind her to blow out her scented candles before she leaves the house. I’d love to write the kind of epic romantic novel I’m always desperate to read but each time I sit down and try to put pen to paper I get overawed by the whole thing. I worry that my ideas aren’t good enough and then I don’t ever write anything. Hmmm. Maybe I’m just bitter. Maybe my dislike of Peter Hannigan is just pure jealousy. It’s entirely possible.
My boss Gemma hurries over to where I’m organising our special Serial Killer Fiction Celebration Week table on the first floor. She’s wearing the expression of someone who’s just been told they have only ten minutes left to live and the only thing they can do to save themselves is eat wiggly worms on toast.
‘Trudy, you need to go to the stockroom immediately,’ she says breathlessly. ‘We’re clean out of One Thousand Tiny Dreams of Kindness downstairs.’
‘Again?’ I roll my eyes. ‘I just stocked up an hour ago.’
Gemma fans herself, eyes wild. ‘I know. It’s just flying off the shelves!’ She licks her lips. ‘People can’t get enough of it. Of him.’
I peer at her. Gemma is totally horny over One Thousand Tiny Dreams of Kindness. She’s already read it three times. What am I missing? I read it the whole way through and everything. It was so…twee.
‘Give me two seconds and I’ll go restock,’ I say, neatly laying out the display cards for my Serial Killer Crime Fiction table.
‘No. Now!’ Gemma scolds. ‘The customers are getting tetchy.’
She says this as if tetchy bookshop clients are a potential danger. As if they’re going to start screaming, looting bookmarks, madly chucking clothbound hardbacks at each other in rage.
‘No probs,’ I say, putting my display cards down and heading over to the first floor stockroom.
I push open the double doors and breathe in heavily at the smell of all the books. Out in the store they use air freshener so you don’t get the lovely smell of printed paper like you do in here. In here it’s almost overwhelming. I love it. Heading over to the pallet full of Peter Hannigan books, I start loading them onto a trolley.
‘Have you read it yet?’ comes a voice from behind me. I glance over my shoulder to find Theo Smith standing there. I roll my eyes. Theo Smith is my work nemesis. We started our Jones & Winchester training on the same day about a year ago and disliked one another on sight. It didn’t help that we were both gunning for a position in Adult Contemporary Fiction, which is where all the cool kids are at. The other position was in Historical Non Fiction which is right at the back of the third floor and everyone knows there’s barely any action on the third floor. I must have impressed Gemma more than he did because I got the coveted Adult Contemporary slot and Theo is stuck on the second floor with the History dweebs. Ever since then he sneers at me whenever we cross paths around the shop. I did try to make friends with him once. I even offered to grab him a Starbucks when I was doing a run for one but he just sneered again and said that Starbucks was a tax dodging capitalist behemoth with terrible coffee. And then another time when I tried wearing a bold orange-red lipstick for the first time he spent all day staring at my lips and raising his eyebrows in judgement. So yeah. Work nemesis confirmed.
‘I have read it,’ I say stiffly, wondering why on earth he is talking to me when the most we’ve interacted in the last year is the occasional work related instruction and an odd disdainful look.
‘Isn’t it a gamechanger?’
I stop loading books onto the trolley.
Theo pushes his dark wavy hair back from his forehead and shakes his head in wonder. ‘The book? It’s a gamechanger. I’m on my third re-read. You know there’s talk Peter Hannigan might be coming here to do a signing.’
‘You liked it?’ I say wrinkling my nose. I had sort of figured that Theo might have slightly better taste. On our training week he said his favourite book was Willy Russell’s The Wrong Boy, which is also my favourite book.
‘I think it’s the best book I’ve read in the last ten years.’ Theo says leaning against a shelf full of dictionarys.
‘I thought it was the most self indulgent, plotless, over hyped, flowery turd of a book I’ve read in the last ten years.’ I respond.
Theo does that annoying smirk, the same one he did when I tried the bold lip that time.
‘Maybe you just don’t get it,’ he muses, dark eyebrow raised.
‘I get that it’s a middle class white man writing about a middle class white man who learns the importance of being kind and then teaches everyone else in his village the importance of being kind.’
Theo laughs. ‘It’s about so much more than that! It’s a sweeping, inspiring meditation on the tenderness of the human condition.’
I goggle for a second. ‘Inspiring meditation on the tenderness of the human condition?’ I splutter. ‘That doesn’t mean anything? What does that even mean?’
Theo shakes his head sadly. ‘Not everyone is going to get it,’ he says. And then as if trying to be kind he puts his hand on my arm. ‘And that’s okay.’
‘Go away, Theo.’ I hiss. ‘I have work to do.’
He puts his hands up in a gesture of innocence before sauntering away and out of the stock room back to Historical Non Fic where he belongs.
I turn back to the stack of books, enjoying the heavy feel of them in my hands, despite the content inside.
God, I’d love to have a book of my own. I close my eyes for a brief moment and imagine that the book in my hands has my name on the front of it. Trudy Baker, embossed on the cover in gold foil. That the pages inside are filled with words that came out of my head. My heart beats faster at the very thought.
I am definitely going to start my novel when I get home tonight. One hundred percent.
By the end of the day I’m pretty darn shattered. It’s been a busy day, but I’m feeling excited to get back to my flat, hole up in my room and finally do the writing I’ve been meaning to do for so long. Tonight is the night.
Once the store is closed, I head up to the second floor to grab my coat and bag from the staff room lockers. When I leave the staff room, Gemma appears, pushing a trolley full of coffee-table art books as well as two more boxes of One Thousand Tiny Dreams of Kindness.
‘Can you do us a favour and take these down to ground floor while you’re leaving?’
‘Of course,’ I say, giving Gemma a wave. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow!’
Grabbing the trolley, I wheel it into the building’s rickety old elevator. I press the chipped, plastic button for the ground floor and just as the doors are shuddering shut they’re stopped by the hand of none other than Theo Smith. Ugh.
‘Hello again,’ he says flatly as if he is just as peeved to see me as I am to see him. He slides in to the lift and leans against the side wall. Why does he always lean? He is so close that I can practically feel his breath on my cheek. Gah.
I sigh and nod politely because I am a good mannered adult woman.
The buttons bing and the door slides shut. Neither of us says anything.
It’s definitely awkward.
Something about being in a lift with just one other person is always a bit awkward but when that someone is someone who you have taken against and for some reason has taken against you. it’s top level, overflowing, cracklingly awkward.
Theo opens his mouth as if he’s about to say something and then closes it like he’s decided against it. Good. I don’t want to hear any more of his thoughts on One Thousand Tiny Dreams of Kindness. Or anything else for that matter. I just want to get home and really truly actually start writing a book of my own. I stare at my hands which are gripping the metal rail of the trolley full of books. And then there’s a loud clunk and I’m sort of thrown sideways into Theo. The lift lurches and makes another loud and extremely alarming scraping sound. It shudders slightly and grinds to a halt.
‘Ow!’ Theo says rubbing at his side where I flew into him. ‘These bloody lifts are so old.’
‘Ow,’ I echo, rubbing the top of my arm. ‘I keep telling Gemma they need to be serviced. One of these days they’re going to give up the ghost.’
With a sigh, I stare at the lift doors and wait for them to open.
But they don’t.
Is today the day the lifts give up the ghost?
No. No, no no.
I press the buttons. Then I press them again, every single one of them.
‘It won’t help to keep pressing them.’ Theo says, annoyingly.
We are stuck. We are stuck in the lift.
My forehead starts to sweat. The air suddenly becomes thin.
‘Oh my god.’ I say. ‘The lift is actually broken. I think we’re stuck.’
Theo rolls his eyes and bends down to inspect the lift buttons as if that will help. He then presses all of them exactly like I just did. ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ he says, pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket and holds it up. ‘No reception. You?’
With shaking hands, I pull my own phone out of my bag. ‘Same,’ I say, trying to keep the wobble out of my voice. ‘What shall we do? Shall we start kicking the door or something?’
Theo shakes his head. ‘Gemma’s finishing in an hour. She always takes the elevator down. She’ll notice something’s wrong when it won’t work.’
‘But what if… what if she doesn’t?’ I think of Gemma. She does always take the lift but what if today is the one day she decides that the stairs are a superior option?
Theo plonks himself onto the floor, cross legged, pulls out his phone and pulls up some sort of game on the screen. ‘We’re just going to have to wait.’
Wait? For an hour? In a broken elevator? With him?