Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill


If I am asked for advice I always say, “Don’t give up the day job”, no matter what it is, because however well your first book did, however large a sum of money you may have made, one swallow does not make a summer or one successful book a long and lucrative career.

-Susan Hill, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books


I’m struggling to get caught up sharing thoughts on the books I’ve read in Scotland, as well as those I’ve bought and will have to ship back to the States. Because failed relationship.

Anyhoo, it’s been difficult not buying more, but I need to show restraint on all but those books difficult to find in the States. I cannot pass up select vintage Penguins, for instance, nor the occasional work by more obscure British authors I know would be more expensive there.

At least, those are my excuses. No bibliophile would bat an eye.

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books I purchased in hardcover, an irresistible volume written by a writer I respect who cherishes books, liberally peppered with anecdotes about other writers she’s known and lots of digressions into things like the weather. I’d expected more focus on Hill’s personal favorites, reminiscences about what she’s read; in reality it’s less that and more a delightfully eccentric, jumbled diary of sorts. It’s a memoir of scattered memories. If you sat down to a meal with Susan Hill, this is the conversation you’d love to have.

Writing a book like this is on my mind, relating specific books to specific stages of my life and discussing my personal iconic writers. Just as everyone’s story is distinct, mine diverges sharply from Susan Hill’s. Though nowhere near as extensively, I’ve met and rubbed elbows with writers of staggering reputation, insinuating myself into their circles, buttonholing them at events, contacting them for interviews unfazed by prizes as the majority of writers I’ve worked with have been gracious, refreshingly humble. A nobody in the literary world, my accomplishments haven’t so much fallen into my lap as been forcefully pulled. Fast talking – or typing – and sharp elbows go a very long way toward competing with writers who have more talent but less assertiveness.

Ultimately, you make your own luck.

Hill’s book introduced me to several writers I’d never heard of, like Duncan Fallowell:


“the author of How to Disappear and other brilliant, eccentric, quirky books by a man who Has Adventures. Duncan has adventures because he goes about looking for them – admirable trait, though one which I have never shared.”

  • Susan Hill, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books


Hill may not have ventured far, but I certainly have. Sitting here in Scotland, for the second time having left my American life behind for the sake of trying a relationship that’s twice failed, a roamer afflicted by wanderlust several times traveling to Europe alone, I’m clearly not of her disposition. Rather the opposite, though if you’d have told me I’d be this way as a reticent child I’d have thought you crazy. My days of traveling extensively outside the country, barring unforeseen incidents (and dear god I’ve had my share of those), are likely to be eclipsed by roaming my own country once I’ve returned home. But I never expect I’ll lose that passion.

Handily, Susan Hill has included a bibliographical list of books mentioned in Jacob’s Room is Full of Books. I’d say helpfully, but it’s also dangerous as I’ve decided I need several of them, Duncan Fallowell’s travel writing included. I suspect his style is closer to my own writing, being less sweet of nature and more inclined toward snark. I’m not a mincer of words. His example may help show me the path, giving me a few ideas. Another necessary book in the Amazon cart.

I recommend Hill’s book. Some have said it drops too many names, but good lord what has she been doing all her life but consorting with fellow writers? And, while it may not be devoted solely to books, there’s enough to have satisfied me. Once you’ve finished that, she published a prior book that’s much the same, Howards End is on the Landing. They make a great pairing.

More books to go before I’ve caught up, then I’ll do my best to stumble through a year-end wrap up. No surprise I have trips both booked and in consideration before I leave the UK. The next is a one day trip to London next week to meet up with friends, then a December jaunt to Penzance for a week’s holiday spent on the most westerly tip of England. As it’s off-season – way, way off-season – it will be freezing and empty.

Are there any bookshops is my first question. If so, no promises I’ll bring back more souvenirs. I’ve just returned from pretty Perth, and will put up photos soon. No bookshops of note there save Waterstones. Not that I don’t love it, but secondhand shops reign supreme.

Back to planning the remainder of my stay. Too early to worry overly much about what I’ll do when I return. Don’t let the present be ruined by difficulties that can be saved for a later date, that’s my motto. Meantime, allons-y!





The Bird of Night by Susan Hill



  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 29, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140040722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140040722

I went through a Susan Hill mini-phase last year, reading her The Woman in Black and I’m the King of the Castle within a very short space of time. During my mania I also ordered two or three used copies of her other titles, including the book I read today, The Bird of Night.

In this novel a man named Harvey Lawson meets the poet Francis Croft at a house party.  Soon the two begin hanging out together, as the saying goes, and it’s not long before they develop a sort of friendship. Lawson finds himself drawn to the mysterious, oddly eccentric Croft. After a while it becomes apparent all isn’t well with Croft’s mental condition but rather than being run off Lawson feels the urgent need to care for the poet. Despite the fact Francis is constantly paranoid he will leave, Harvey finds himself more and more drawn in. He believes Francis is a poetic genius, and in fact Francis does produce a poem to great acclaim, titled “Janus.”

The years go by and Francis slides further and further into insanity. Eventually he attempts suicide, though unsuccessfully. Even relatively early on it’s obvious Harvey loves Francis, though the very nature of Francis’ madness makes any sort of real relationship impossible.  Still, he’s content to care for him, hoping for even a glimpse of sanity. These moments of rationality, though, become further and further apart.

The book is framed by the years following the death of Francis, when Harvey is a very old man being cared for in the same manner he cared for Francis.  Literary worshipers assail him constantly, looking in vain for any papers Francis may have left behind him.  Harvey tells them “there are no papers,” when in fact there actually are but he doesn’t want to encourage any more attention than he’s already getting. The intrusions are a nuisance. He would prefer to be alone with his memories,

The Bird of Night is a book I read in one day. It was compelling enough, and likewise short enough, I didn’t want to put it down unfinished.  Though not as masterful as Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle, it is nevertheless a fascinating portrait of a descent into madness.