Ummmmm…I am kind of at a loss for words on this one. The Bookshop started out as something I normally really like. A widow decides to open a bookstore in her tiny English village. I thought it would have some humor, some quirky characters, some very British perseverance in the face of adversity – and it did. It also had an overwhelmingly sad ending that I really didn’t expect and, as it turns out, I learned that people are just mean and you shouldn’t bother trying to bring some light into people’s worlds because they simply won’t appreciate it. Does that sound dark? It’s how I felt after listening to this book.
It’s 1959, and Florence Green has decided to open the only bookshop in her little seaside town. She picks an abandoned property that’s been vacant for seven years and falling into decay. Oh, and it’s haunted, a fact which plays a minimal role in the story. Florence fixes the place up, orders her inventory, and opens her business. Her main nemesis is the local rich lady, Mrs. Gamart, who, some day, planned to use the same property for a center for the arts and begins to put the squeeze on Florence to move out and move on. Never mind that this property has been vacant the last seven years and no move was made before then to do anything with it, or that the entire small village knew for a few months of Florence’s plan to buy and refurbish the place for a bookshop business. Mrs. Gamart is peeved that her pet project has been snatched away from her. Jealousy is the crux of poor Florence’s downfall.
The book is really too short to give much more of the plot without giving every spoiler. I wanted this book to be one of those cozy English village stories where everything works out in the end and this was not that story. However, it was very well- written and had parts that made me laugh out loud. It was charming in many ways and the fact that it didn’t meet my expectations was no fault of the book. It did feel like it skimmed over much of the story and characters because of the short length, so it seemed more novella than novel. I would have like more depth. As a parable for spectacular failure despite one’s optimism in life, it hit its mark.
As I said, it’s a short book. Amazon lists it at 192 pages and the running time on the audio was just under four hours. It was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize back in 1978 when it was first published, but didn’t win. I’ve included this review from Publisher’s Weekly that lauds the book’s bleakness and social message and I found another great review/discussion here. Author Penelope Fitzgerald did win the Booker Prize the next year for her novel Offshore. You can read more about Fitzgerald here.
A movie is due out in August 2018 which I didn’t realize until I finished the book and was doing my research. I’ve included a trailer here. It has already been released in other parts of the world and the reviews for the film are as mixed as reviews for the book. This link is to an article in Variety and I’ve included a few reviews below from Rotten Tomatoes.
I didn’t dislike the book and plan to explore some of Fitzgerald’s other titles. She is a new name to me. I’ll also catch the movie at some point to see how it holds up. I would recommend this book overall, just beware that it’s not what you might expect! Really, though, when is life ever what we expect? And that is the crux of this story.