Sunday, February 18, 2007


Living Alone

Books that we almost reprinted but didn't: another in our continuing series of Collins Library near-misses...

Living Alone, by Stella Benson.

A deeply odd 1919 novel that begins when a flustered woman blunders into a London air-raid shelter during a zeppelin attack. She accidentally leaves behind a broomstick she was carrying, and when another young woman in the shelter tracks down the owner to return it to her, she discovers an island in the Thames inhabited by a very matter-of-fact population of eccentric witches and grumpy wizards. The island's visitor lodgings, such as it is, is an establishment called Living Alone, and it proves to be inhabited by those who...

"dislike hotels, clubs, settlements, hostels, boarding-houses, & lodges only less than their own homes; who detest landladies, waiters, husbands & wives, charwomen, & all forms of lookers after. This house is a monastery & a convent for monks & nuns dedicated to unknown gods. Men & women who are tired of being laboriously kind to their bodies, who like to be a little uncomfortable & quite uncared-for, who love to live from week to week without speaking, except to confide their destinations to 'bus-conductors, who are weary of woolly decorations, aspidistras, & the eternal two generations of roses which riot along blue ribbons on hireling wall-papers, who are ignorant of the science of tipping & thanking, who do not know how to cook yet hate to be cooked for, will here find the thing they have desired, & something else as well..."

It being World War I, the book features an aerial dogfight between broomstick-wielding British and German witches in the skies over London (!). If J.K. Rowling doesn't own a copy of this book, she certainly should.

This is one of those books that is more fun to summarize than to actually read -- check out this Weird Review essay on it, for instance. The idea of it is splendid, though, and there are passages of truly wonderful peculiarity. It's been out of print since its first and only edition in 1919, and it certainly deserves to have somebody reprint it. Better still, as a book with a great idea and so-so execution, it's probably perfect for a film adaptation.

Until then, though, you can have a look at it yourself -- Project Gutenberg now has this e-text online.

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