Smith coalesces account from various individuals on the importance of public libraries with vignettes which cover a variety of random yet wonderfully written topics; a man who is unable to convince the sinister forces behind a local newspaper who reported his death that he is very much alive, the story of the ashes of D.H Lawrence juxtaposed with 21st century credit card fraud, the downward spiral of a obscure Scottish poet, the history of regents park. Although the accounts and stories are, superficially at least, only loosely connected, there is perhaps a deeper connection between the two which explores the joys of literature, the irreverence of the imagination, the importance of not just public libraries but the stories which inhabit them in opening up our eyes and minds to the limitless possibilities of the world and the essential nature of stories in allowing us to connect with others and to fulfil our own potential. Stories are at the core of what makes us human and libraries are therefore libraries are vital preservers of our sense of humanity.
Literary characters are interspersed within the mundane accounts in Smith’s short story collection; whether it be a history of Regents Park via the various writers who visited it, from Dickens to Woolf, or of ghost of Katharine Mansfield which haunts a failed relationship, the spectre of literature haunts the characters who inhabit the short stories, or in her explorations of the origins of words and how closely they relate or diverge or in the short story ‘The Poet’ which reads like a pastiche of the style and rhythm of a story from Joyce’s collection ‘Dubliners’.
‘Public Library’ is a subtle, yet powerful evocation of the joys of reading and the importance of libraries and the inevitable loss we will experience as they disappear to be replaced by the superficial trappings of modern life; a block of apartments or shop can never replace the stories which could be woven about them if there are no libraries left.