(bor­row­ing)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Gabrielle Leago Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

I once lent a favourite book to a friend. Af­ter be­ing mauled by a dober­man and dropped in the bath, it was re­turned with pro­fuse apolo­gies and the of­fer of re­place­ment.

I de­clined. I’ve long known that bor­rowed books are ac­ci­dent-prone.

Be­fore my fam­ily em­i­grated from Bri­tain to Syd­ney, my fa­ther brought home a li­brary book filled with scenes of our prospective coun­try. Dad gave it to me to browse be­fore he left for work, warn­ing that if I dam­aged it he’d get into trou­ble. In that neigh­bour­hood, “trou­ble” usu­ally meant a so­journ at Her Majesty’s plea­sure. I care­fully ex­am­ined each pho­to­graphic paean to the beauty of our cho­sen land. When I turned the page ready to be de­lighted afresh, the pa­per caught on a but­ton and tore. Just a tiny tear but, like any five-year old, I was in­clined to make a lot of a lit­tle. Hot with panic, I snapped the book shut and car­ried it to the ta­ble.

When the book was re­turned, my anx­i­ety rose. With ev­ery knock at the front door I ex­pected the po­lice to barge in, look­ing for Dad. Later that sum­mer, with my fa­ther still at large, I doubt that any pas­sen­ger was more re­lieved than I was to be sail­ing from Southamp­ton.

The book­mo­bile that rolled up to my pri­mary school with its dog-eared cargo tem­pered my fear of in­ad­ver­tent dam­age. At high school I bor­rowed age-in­ap­pro­pri­ate books from the mu­nic­i­pal li­brary, re­turn­ing them with nary a blem­ish but with a propen­sity to fall open at a cer­tain page. My pho­bia was in re­mis­sion. Un­til re­cently, that is, when I joined the lo­cal li­brary. On a whim I bor­rowed a mint-con­di­tion Napoleon’s Last Is­land by Tom Ke­neally.

Then I drove to the shops. It was a hot day. I threw a wa­ter bot­tle on to the seat be­fore head­ing off to linger near the freezer sec­tion. Re­turn­ing an hour later, I was hor­ri­fied to find that the book was wet through; I hadn’t re-capped the bot­tle prop­erly. I fran­ti­cally mopped and fanned the pages. At home I Googled “book restora­tion”, and as I care­fully ironed each page (silk set­ting, no steam) be­tween sheets of kitchen pa­per, I re­vis­ited my anx­i­ety over that torn book of sun­lit Aus­tralian scenes.

I re­turned the bloated mess to the li­brary and de­scribed my ef­fort to fix it. “Ac­ci­dents like that hap­pen all the time,” the li­brar­ian said. And with that she fined me the price of the book; Napoleon’s Last Is­land was mine to take home. It’s one of the best books I’ve read, thor­oughly ab­sorb­ing (and, dare I say, ab­sorbent). Sadly, its ex­ile to the com­post bin is im­mi­nent.

Since then I’ve bor­rowed mag­a­zines, CDs and DVDs from the li­brary, but not an­other book. For now I’m con­tent with the worn-out books I bought at a li­brary sale. Now that some­one owns them, they’re safe.

wel­comes submissions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Submissions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to Which planet is the eighth and fur­thest planet from the sun in our so­lar sys­tem? Who suc­ceeded Ehud Olmert as Prime Min­is­ter of Is­rael in 2009? Which two foods are the main in­gre­di­ents of meringue?

is one of the best-known bal­lets by which com­poser? Napoleon Bon­a­parte was king of Italy dur­ing which cen­tury?

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