Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors' lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Her warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently... haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: that a town that lacks a bookshop isn't always a town that wants one...”


A definite page-turner, this. Gossip, betrayal, good intentions, bad luck and laziness highlight this short novel full of acute (and affecting) slice o' life minutiae – Fitzgerald is a master of the small gestures that say so much. Sharp, vicious pleasantries and petty legalities also highlight The Bookshop, provoking bouts of oh my, that was nasty laughter from this reader.

The characters are sketched, for the most part, but Fitzgerald makes sure they're effective, ably playing their parts in the developing cold war between Florence Green and Violet Gamart.

The ending sucks – a real downer, it is. However, Fitzgerald imbues it with a rich, dark irony that almost, but not quite, makes up for it.

Worth your time, if you don't mind a downbeat finish.

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