The power of story telling is one theme of the novel, The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  It’s a good read. However, this section has disturbed my thoughts since I finished it last week. I’m ashamed to say that, despite my Quakerly tendencies, I would find it hard to let the books burn! I certainly wonder which book on the brink would have me pulling the trigger!

 ‘Picture a conveyer belt, a huge conveyer belt and at the end of it a massive furnace. And on the conveyer belt are books. Every copy in the world of every book you’ve ever loved. All lined up. Jane Eyre. Villette, The Woman in White. Middlemarch.

‘And imagine a lever with the labels, ON and OFF. At the moment the lever is off. And next to it is a human being, with his hand on the lever. About to turn it on. And you can stop it. You have a gun in your hand. All you have to do is pull the trigger. What do you do?

‘He turns the lever to on. The conveyer belt has started.

‘First of all, Shirley goes over the edge. Now George Sand starts to go up in flames. Wuthering Heights is coming up. Going to let her burn, are you?’

 I couldn’t help myself. I saw the books, saw their steady process to the mouth of the furnace and flinched.

 ‘Suit yourself. In it goes. Same for Jane Eyre?’

 Jane Eyre. I was suddenly dry-mouthed.

 ‘All you have to do is shoot. I won’t tell. No one need ever know.’

She waited. ‘They’ve started to fall. Just the first few. But there are a lot of copies. You have a moment to make up your mind.’

 I rubbed my thumb nervously against a rough edge of nail on my middle finger.

 ‘They’re falling faster now.’ She did not remove her gaze from me.

 ‘Half of them gone. Think, Margaret. All of Jane Eyre will soon have disappeared for ever. Think. Two thirds gone. Just one person, Margaret. Just one tiny, insignificant little person.’

 I blinked.

 ‘Last chance.’

 Blink. Blink. Blink.

 Jane Eyre was no more. …

Of course I loved books more than people. Of course I valued Jane Eyre over the anonymous stranger with his hand on the lever. Of course all of Shakespeare was worth more than a human life. Of course.