Simple, uncomplicated loathing, like fine wine and expensive cigars, is one of the unexpected pleasures of middle age. It is often purely visceral — an instinctive and unreasoning dislike of a gesture, a turn of phrase, or a point of view — but it is rare to feel such confidence in your dislike as you do with this book.
Surprisingly, it is not Gilbert Bland, the sly thief at the centre of the tale, who so inspires repulsion — he slashes, slices and butchers his way through the antique books of scores of libraries across America without ever becoming more than a shadow lurking behind the pages. In fact, the rebel in the reader is likely to think, if the libraries couldn’t look after their books better, they deserved to lose them.
No, it is the map dealers — fine, upstanding pillars of the community — who make The Island of Lost Maps such a treasury of human unpleasantness. Miles Harvey describes one who brags loudly, just like a cartoon Texan, ‘l am the biggest map dealer of the twentieth century.’ He