Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

I had heard about this quaint British novel about a bookstore for years, and finally it felt like the right moment to read it. I wasn't quite right, though.

I had thought this book would be charming and sweet. Instead, to me, it was a little sad. The town where Florence opens her bookshop, considers her an outsider (and always will) and doesn't seem to really want a bookshop. One wealthy woman in town is conspiring to have the building its in taken away from her, the aristocratic gentleman whose favor could sway the town is thwarted in his efforts, and the young girl who Florence hires as after-school help gets Florence in trouble for violating child labor laws. She tries a lot of different ideas, from a lending library to series books to risky new bestsellers like Lolita, but nothing works. There's even a ghost. It seems as if everything is going against her.

As someone who actively supports independent bookstores wherever I can, it's rare (but I have seen it) where a community just doesn't want one, and that's heartbreaking to me. I was unprepared for what the book actually was. It's very well-written and the characters are impeccably drawn and I could just see them jump off the pages of this short novel, but I just can't say that a book that made me so sad, is one I strongly recommend, even though it's so very well written. If you do go there, at least know better than I what you're getting into. Not for when you're feeling emotionally wobbly.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Little City Books in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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