Published by Mariner Books
Publication date: September 15th 1997
November is a quiet month for new book releases so I try and use the time to read books I missed earlier in the year or just things that catch my eye. And by that I mean, anything in this mini-bookcase, which is now comprised of books coming out in 2016 and all the things that came out this year that I didn’t read (yet). I know, it’s a little crazy, but it is organized (sort of).
Anyway, it’s already known that I have a weakness for books about books. If it has bookshop, book or library in the title than I’m probably going to want to read it—even though that hasn’t always worked out. I’m happy to report that in the case of The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald it did.
Florence Green lives in a small town on the English coast. After her husband dies she decides to use her inheritance to open a bookshop because their town is without either a book store or a library. It’s the early 1960s and she’s hopeful the time is right to bring books to her village, but she is surprised when she meets with resistance from one of the town’s wealthy women. For reasons she cannot fathom Mrs. Gamart doesn’t like her and doesn’t like any of her decisions and seems determined to shut her down.
The Bookshop is a tiny book, weighing in at 123 pages and not likely to take more than an afternoon to read and yet, it does exactly what it needs to do in that time and space. It is a quintessentially British novel peopled with places and a cast that is reminiscent of Dickens, Trollope, and Wilde: an overbearing matron, a haunted shop, a waifish child from an overpopulated family, hard economic times, a largely useless barrister, and a reclusive aristocrat. At its center is Florence, plucky and of good cheer. She hires Christine, a ten-year-old wisp of a girl with the will of a major who soon marshals the store and its patrons into order.
In the wrong hands The Bookshop could be the worst of treacly slop, but Fitzgerald feels no compunction to sugarcoat reality. Instead, with the dry humor that is the best of the Brits she tells a story that is endearing in its fiction but sad in its truth. The kind that, when it ends, leaves a wistful desire for more.