Alice waggled an admonishing finger. “Last time we met up I spent a whole hour sitting in a pub on my own.” She turned to Jim. “I read three chapters waiting for Robert to turn up.”
Robert groaned. “The tube train was stuck in a tunnel!”
“Which just goes to prove that books found in pubs do have their uses!”
“That’s female logic if ever I’ve heard it!”
Before she could snap back a retort, Jim waggled a forefinger at Robert. “Let’s not go there, eh?” He looked towards the nearest bookcase. “Alice, since you work in publishing, why not give us your opinion on this collection?”
Alice grinned. “Gladly,” she said, rising from her seat.
Ten years in the industry hadn’t quelled her curiosity about randomly encountered books. She inspected the two dozen or so titles with interest.
“The thing that strikes me,” she said, while looking back over her right shoulder towards Jim, “is that most of these books are by writers I’ve never heard of.”
Robert groaned. “I bet it’s mostly vanity stuff.”
That he sounded bitter didn’t come as a surprise to Alice. Over the years, many of their conversations had focussed on Robert’s failure to find suitable outlets for his writing.
Alice tapped a finger along a row of hardbacks. One of them caught her attention. Bound in green cloth, it lacked a dust jacket. She plucked it from the shelf.
“The Book of Love by…” She crinkled her brow. “Anonymous, apparently.”
She read the first page. The book seemed to be a biography, though she could not identify the subject. She leafed through the rest of the book, but stopped when she realised she was turning blank pages. Beginning again, she counted three chapters totalling fifty-two pages of text, followed by another two hundred or more empty pages. Frowning, she passed the book to Jim.
“What do you make of it?”
After rifling through the book, Jim said, “How odd!” Holding it open at two blank pages, he pointed it towards Robert. “Remind you of anything?” Having failed to provoke a reaction, he added: “Like that novel you never quite get round to starting.”
From Robert’s tight-lipped expression, Alice judged he didn’t want to discuss the subject. Jim, however, chose to press on regardless.
“Robert had this idea for a novel based on our time as postgrads at Leicester University.” Jim held out his arms as if encompassing their shared experiences. “Like a fictionalised biography.”