My room as I was packing to leave for Durham for the first time looked like a bomb site. I had the classic argument with my mum who told me that I was taking absurd amounts of jumpers and belongings that I apparently “would just not need” (but that now I wish I had). However, as difficult as it was to fit everything in the car ready for the six hour journey ahead of us, I knew that one of the items I would not be sacrificing was my ultimate comfort book, ‘The Secret Countess’ by Eva Ibbotson.
‘The Secret Countess’ is a teen fiction book, following the life of Anna, a Russian countess who escapes the Bolsheviks in the 1917 revolution and arrives penniless in London. She takes a job as a maid in a house just taken on by World War One war survivor Rupert to fund her brother’s education. Concealing her background, Anna is immediately popular amongst the staff, family and friends in this little community. It’s a heartwarming, romantic and simple story.
And so, this childish looking book went in alongside my books from the English reading list (which cost me a small fortune so were another big priority). While perhaps slightly odd as an English student that the one book I absolutely had to take to uni was something quite so un- literary, for some reason, this book means a lot to me. I’ve had the same, battered copy since I was about 12, and I still remember my mum giving it to me one Christmas, and me spending too much of the day when I was meant to be socialising reading it. It was my favourite book for a few years, and as the perfect escapist novel, became something I’d turn to when I was homesick, stressed, or bored. I now associate it with my early teen years and the thing to make me feel better. It’s not the beautiful writing or the perfectly crafted characters that make this particular book so special to me (although they definitely help), but the fact that, of all the books I’ve ever read, this is the one that is the most familiar and always makes me feel at home.