This book appealed to me because A) it’s short and B) it’s about a bookshop, and anything set in a bookshop has my interest. And it’s really because of point A that I actually made it through the whole book, because…. well, I’m not even really sure where to start with this one.
On the surface it’s a simple premise – it’s about a middle-aged woman, Florence, who decides to buy an abandoned property in the small British town she lives in and open a bookshop. But when she puts her plan into practice, she is met with unexpected opposition from the unofficial first lady of the town – who wants to use the property as a cultural centre.
In defying the matriarch’s wishes, Florence unwittingly divides the village. The residents declare allegiances, and either aid or inhibit Florence’s plans.
I’m left vaguely confused about this book. I liked the premise. I liked that Florence stubbornly refused to step aside and found it absurd that she should be expected to do so. I liked the young girl who becomes her assistant, and thoroughly disliked the narcissistic and vain young man who later steps into that role.
And yet, I found it hard to connect to Florence. She was likable enough, and I rooted for her to succeed, but more on principal (I’m one to root for the underdog) than because I really felt any affinity for her.
My other quibble with this book is that it felt like it started quite abruptly part way through a story. I kept feeling like I should have had more background on the main characters, more casual mentions of others, more scene-setting, maybe even an actual chunk of story in Florence’s previous life working at an established bookstore (which, incidentally, is the story I’d be more interested in). I think this contributed to the difficulty I had in forming an emotional connection with Florence.
I found this interesting in that it didn’t follow the usual conventions of fiction. But as I’m not one to judge books based on their originality, but rather my enjoyment in reading them and the emotional response they evoke, this book didn’t hit a home run for me. I do think it’s worth reading if you are a fan of more experimental writing styles, particularly if you like quiet stories in which there isn’t a whole lot of plot. (Or, unfortunately, an over-abundance of character development.) It has some great atmospheric elements, does a great job of creating a sense of dread, and has some unexpected turns along the way.
This is one I’d love to hear other opinions of – particularly from anyone who read and loved it. Am I missing anything here?
In the small East Anglian coastal town of Hardborough, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.
Hardborough quickly becomes a battleground – for Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done. As a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. Her fate will strike a chord with anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice. – Goodreads
Book Title: The Bookshop
Author: Penelope Fitzgerald
Published By: Harper Perennial (first published 1978)
Genre: Fiction, England, Bookstores
Date Read: June 13-14, 2017