When I was about 8, there was a hardcover book on my class's bookshelves that seemed incredibly unloved. It had a grey cover (the dust cover was long gone) and I noticed that it remained untouched over several months. After a while, I took pity on it and took it home (we had some kind of library system but the details are lost to time). It turned out to be the most inspired, funny and irreverent book--belied by its somewhat anodyne and syrupy title, Five Dolls in a House and masked by its plain cover. I think I must have kept it out for most of that year, and probably the year after that. I still remember reading it in my old tiny bedroom and the joy I had in the cockney monkey that lived on the roof and threw objects to the floor, the resident dolls' delight in cough drops and someone's efforts to eat the plaster food on the doll house plates.
The biggest mystery is why I didn't ask my parents to buy me a copy. Perhaps I did--from the looks of things, the last edition went to print in 1973 so it's possible it wasn't available.
A few years ago, I decided to track it down, not to give to any possible daughter I may have, but for myself. Thinking about having children made me revisit my own childhood and cherish some of its innocent pleasures. I decided to track down this book, only to discover that it's pretty rare and very collectible with the hardcover copies I wanted going for over £100 and paperbacks in the region of £30. I can't understand why it hasn't been reprinted as it seems well loved but I was able to get a copy for £8 plus postage on amazon and it will be awaiting me when I go home next month. It will be interesting to judge how it reads decades later, but I'll always remember the delight of discovering something so special between those orphaned plain grey covers.
David Niven’s Fish Cakes
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