Monday, 17 March 2008

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

This is a deceptively small book, at 156 pages, because each word is chosen carefully and the finish packs a wallop. The Bookshop is the story of Florence Green, who wants to open a bookshop in Hardborough in East Anglia, and what happens when she does. You would think the writing would be sparse, but it isn't. It is writing that is economical - no word is wasted, and yet there is lovely description, though spare. Ms Fitzgeralds' concern is people, and in this tiny book -scarcely a novel size that we are accustomed to - she captures the essence of each character precisely, delightfully. As I long to someday open my own bookstore, I read this novel eagerly, to see what befell the characters. I can't reveal more without revealing the outcome, which i have sworn not to do on this blog! - so while The Bookshop did not turn out as I expected, at the end, it captured something more than just the characters. It ended up being a book about small villages in England, and the way of life in those villages. Having lived for a year in England, and encountered some very eccentric characters from the countryside (as well as in York) - there is nothing like working retail to encounter the best and worst of people! - this book brought back to me the feel of England. The book is set in 1959-1960, before I was born, but the tempo of time in the countryside and small villages moves more slowly than in the rest of England and the world, and this tiny book caught this feeling, this atmosphere perfectly.

All the characters, as mentioned before, are wonderfully captured, and best of all - because I do love them - the bookshop is in an ancient house that is haunted by a poltergeist. How can anyone resist a story about a bookshop with a ghost? The ghost does not play a key role, by the way, it is part of the scenery in a sense - everyone in the village knows about the ghost, and when various people encounter its results (flung tools, books, etc), they shrug it off. There is one memorable scene of the haunting, but other than Florence and Christine her 11-year-old help sitting through it, nothing much is made of it. No ghost-hunters are called in, nor police nor doctors. It just goes with the house the bookshop is in.

Since I worked in one of the older buildings in York - in the city centre which houses the oldest buildings - built in the 14th century, we had our own resident ghost, so I can vouch that there are places in England that do have their own residents! though I experienced nothing like the episode in The Bookshop! And yet, it is not a ghost story, it is a story about opening the bookshop. If you are looking for a delightful, quick read, with eccentric characters (and Violet is far more scary than the ghost, and malevolent) and books, then this is the book for you. Oh, and Lolita makes an appearance, in case you thought this was a boring book. I can't say I loved this book, but I did enjoy it. It was well worth reading.


Charlotte said...

Sounds like my kind of book. My husband and I have always thought our retirement job would be to own a bookshop. There's a fabulous English bookshop on the beach at Antibes that I've got my eye on!

Between the three children, the love of books, the writing, the living in different countries, we are soul sisters, dear Susan!

Patricia said...

Oh crap....another book I want to read now. Like I have time or something!

John doesn't go for the wearin' of the green on St. Paddy's day. He figures it's an "Ireland" thing vs a Northern Ireland thing ~ he also figures he's Irish enough!!

Kristen has blue, VERY blue eyes so the post about Irish eyes wouldn't have worked so well if I stuck her in there!!

Lisa said...

Have you read The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley? I just finished this book and it was a nice little read. It's not haunted in the traditional sense, but it's a great book about books and the people who love them!

Susan said...

Charlotte - I agree (and how did you know I was thinking the same thing?), soul sisters, then! :-) And I'll let you know how my version of Nigella's easter cake turns out ( I can hardly wait...)

Lady p: hahaha! It only took 40 years to get you interested in reading!
I just like to wear green and celebrate being Irish. I always have. Tell John Northern Ireland is still Ireland (even if it's part of Great Britain now).
And who says Irish eyes are only GREEN?

Lisa - welcome! I haven't read the book yet, but thanks for recommending it. I am always looking for new books to read! I'll let you know when I find it here :-)

Anonymous said...

It's too long since I read this book which, as you so rightly say, is completely perfect and not a word wasted. In general, I keep re-reads for times when I'm feeling low. This is going to have to go onto the pile, I think. Thank you for reminding me about it.

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