Monday 20 November 2023

Bookshop Scent

I remember how in 1941 I spent a rather guilty night of security in Berkhamsted away from the fly-bombs and the fire-watching with my brother Hugh. Asleep in the Swan Inn I dreamt of the W.H. Smith bookshop down the High Street from which I had stolen The Railway Magazine all those years ago, and I smelt the individual smell of the shop which was like the smell of no other Smith’s that I have ever known. In my dream I found a book for which I had long been searching on a particular shelf, and so in the morning, before I had breakfast, I walked down the street to see whether my dream might prove true. I was disappointed, the book was not there, but what I noticed at once on entering the shop was that the familiar smell had gone, and without the smell the shop was not the same. I inquired after the manager whom I remembered well: he had died the year before, and I suppose the new manager had changed whatever was the source of the smell which had so long haunted my imagination.
Graham Greene, A Sort of Life (London: Slightly Foxed, 2010; 1971), p. 81.