I felt terribly guilty including this book in my 111 for the year. It's only about the size of my hand and just 56 pages long. But it deserves it's own unique place as book #54 of the year, because it is one of the most delightful and utterly charming books I have read in a long time.
The Jester of Astapovo, by Rose Tremain is published by Hay Festival Press. Every year, as part of the Hay Book Festival, formerly sponsored by the Guardian, now delivered by the Telegraph, the organisers produce a little, beautifully bound, book - an ideal collectors item for festival goers and literary lovers. This was 2009's edition and all profits from the sale of this book go to Oxfam.
It's a lovely story of a man named Ivan, who - as the opening sentence alerts us to - believed himself to be in love with an older woman. Ivan, however, is already married and currently works as the stationmaster in the little town of Astapovo, 120 miles south-east of Moscow. Nothing much happens in this town, and Ivan desperately wants to be known as somebody, he wants to make an impact and to be remembered. Up until now, he hasn't had the opportunity, but all that could all be about to change, when one day a train arrives, bringing with it the most curious of passengers on board - and they need Ivan's help.
I don't want to give the story away, but at only 56 pages in length, it's a short story that won't take you long to read (I read it one afternoon as I was walking down to the beauty salon!). Ivan is an absolutely wonderful character - a true Jester - and this little story will be sure to warm your heart.
Book #55: Tangled Web
By Doris Lessing
I thought I'd continue on with the Hay Festival theme and picked up the 2007 keepsake, Tangled Web. There are two short stories enclosed in the covers of this one: A More Than Usually Tangled Web and Black Calf, both by Doris Lessing. However, neither of them left quite the same impression as The Jester of Astapovo, so these two will probably get a reread at some time when I can appreciate them in their own light. For now, I'm still on a high from Rose Tremain!