The Fishmonger's Violin — 14 July 2020

by Alexander Thompson

The Mitchell Library is the biggest in Glasgow, occupying five floors and containing more than a million books. The librarians are friendly or not, depending on your accent, skin colour and clothing.

K. would show up there most mornings, go to the general literature section, browse the shelves, pick a book. Sometimes that would take a few minutes, sometimes an hour. K. would take the book to a table, sit down, and read for the rest of the day. Lunch was out of a bag, a cheese roll, packet of crisps, can of Irn-Bru. The first few days at the Mitchell, K. would eat there at the table, reading. But then a librarian came over and said it wasn’t allowed.

“Sorry, I didn’t know,” K. said, and carried the food outside, ate, then came back in.

Some days when K. came back after eating lunch, a librarian would have taken that day’s book from the table, even if there were plenty of unoccupied tables. Sometimes they’d just put the book back on the shelf, but other times they hadn’t, and K. would have to approach their desk and ask them for it.

Some days K. would have finished reading a book by early afternoon, and would browse the shelves and find another one. Sometimes the book K. had been reading would mention another book that seemed interesting, and K. would go to the librarian’s desk and ask if they had it, and the librarian would give K. a card on which to write the title of the book and the name of the author. If the library had the book — it almost always did — they’d either have it brought from whatever department had it, or they’d tell K. to go and read it there. K. never knew why it was sometimes one and sometimes the other.

One morning K. asked the librarian for The Fishmonger’s Violin. “I was going to look on the shelf, but I don’t know the name of the author.”

“Here,” said the librarian, handing K. a card and a pen.

Five minutes later, the librarian said they couldn’t find any record of it.

“Any idea who else might have it?” K. asked.

“No. It’s not just that we don’t have it, there’s no record of it. Are you sure you’ve got the title right?”


“Where did you hear about it?”

I made it up, K. thought, but said, “Somebody told me about it. It’s supposed to be really good.”

“Well. I don’t know.”


K. went to the bookshelves and browsed for a while, but didn’t choose a book.

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