It seems as though we’re working our way through the Waterstones Book of the Year Shortlist having discussed The Lost Words last week and moving onto The Book of Dust today. Before anyone gets too nervous about spoilers, don’t worry, there aren’t any here – instead of exploring the book itself, we wanted to investigate the context surrounding it a little more. However, having read it, I would urge anyone who hasn’t done yet, to grab a copy, find a quiet corner by a stove and dive right in!
The themes we’d like to touch on today are disparate but all highly relevant to The Book of Dust and its recent release. First up is writing to expectation. Who else has wondered what it must feel like for Philip Pullman to be penning this trilogy with so many readers ready to jump on every word? I don’t envy the task and yet he has once again produced an absolutely riveting read in masterful prose. Possibly even more admirable are his characters. I was concerned that I would miss Lyra as the key personality but after just a few chapters, I was already enjoying the company of Malcolm at least as much.
This leads us onto our second point for discussion. What does writing a prequel, sequel or, in this instance, an equel, gain for the reading experience? Pullman suggests that The Book of Dust works as a standalone series without having read His Dark Materials. However, it’s hard to believe that the experience isn’t richer with knowledge of all the books. I, along with many other Pullman fans no doubt, reread the earlier trilogy in advance of the new release. This extra layer begins to build not just a series but a world and ever more expectation as the next release comes out.
Finally for today, we’d like to pull back and look at the wider context of book releases. Back in July, The Bookseller published an article about the heavy discounting that was expected on The Book of Dust. How can indie bookshops survive in such a climate? And given the time and skill that is poured into a work of art like this, are we devaluing the authors by expecting these discounts? I can proudly say that I bought my copy from the wonderful Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester. For me, I appreciate the benefits of a beautifully curated collection of books in an independent bookshop, I like to be able to discuss recent releases and I believe that the authors deserve full credit for their work.
And, ultimately, this book is one that richly rewards its reader.
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