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Review: The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald


Pages: 123
Original date of publication: 1978
My edition: 1997 (Houghton Mifflin)
Why I decided to read: LibraryThing recommendation
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, April 2011


In 1959, Florence Green opens a bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough, a quintessential small village in which everyone knows everyone else’s business—and many people are resistant to change. Flying in the face of opposition, Florence opens her shop, which is popular at first—and then various interfering busybodies in Hardborough try to shut her down.

I thought that Florence as a character was a little bit flat and she tends to take back seat to some of the more interesting characters such as Christine, Florence’s assistant, or even the small-minded Violet Gamart. Florence doesn’t seem to be much of a reader; for example, when she reads the reviews that Lolita has gotten, she asks Milo to read it instead of reading it herself. She doesn’t even seem to care too much when the townspeople try to shut the bookshop down. As an avid book reader, I obviously see how the possible closing of the bookshop is tragic, but since Florence doesn’t care all that much about her fate and that of the bookshop, why should the reader? As a result, the emotional impact of the ending of the book wasn’t as great for me as it could have been.

However, the narrative flow of the book is good, and you as the reader find yourself wishing that the bookshop will succeed. Speaking from the bibliophilic point of view, the tone of this short novel is sad; how can so many people be so small-minded about something so innocuous as a bookshop? The people in Hardborough are certainly resistant to change. Aside from my major problems with the main character, I really did enjoy this book about books. There’s even a poltergeist to keep things interesting.

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