From the Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Offshore’, ‘The Blue Flower’ and ‘Innocence’ comes this Booker Prize-shortlisted story of books and busybodies in East Anglia.
This, Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is set in a small East Anglian coastal town, where Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. ‘She had a kind heart, but that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.’
Hardborough becomes a battleground, as small towns so easily do. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. This is a story for anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.
‘Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality – the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.’ Sebastian Faulks
‘Wise and ironic, funny and humane, Fitzgerald is a wonderful, wonderful writer.’ David Nicholls
‘[Penelope Fitzgerald’s] work is subtle, funny, wrong-footing, and cumulatively powerful.’ Julian Barnes
‘Penelope Fitzgerald’s resources of odd people are impressively rich. Raven, the marshman, who ropes Florence in to hang on to an old horse’s tongue while he files the teeth; old Brundish, secretive as a badger, slow as a gorse bush. And this is not just a gallery of quirky still lives; these people appear in vignettes, wryly, even comically animated…On any reckoning, a marvellously piercing fiction.’ Valentine Cunningham, Times Literary Supplement
About the author
Penelope Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels, three of which – The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels – were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the prize in 1979 for Offshore. A superb biographer and critic, she was also the author of lives of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, the poet Charlotte Mew and The Knox Brothers, a study of her remarkable family. She died in April 2000.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Books, culture, a strong-willed heroine and rural eccentrics in a little English seaside town: Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel has everything you want (and need) in a cozy couch read. This wry, satirical story gets into the politics, gossip and brow-furrowing that engulf the community of Hardborough as a mild-mannered but determined outsider tries to set up a new business. Immersive and nostalgic, The Bookshop is an entertaining reminder that “courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested”.
Long unfamiliar to American readers, Fitzgerald began, last April, to get the attention she deserves when Mariner brought out her 1995 novel, The Blue Flower. This reprint of her 1978 novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (she won it the next year with Offshore), should enjoy a similar success. Its premise is straightforward: in 1959, Florence Green--"small, wispy and wiry, somewhat insignificant from the front view, and totally so from the back"--decides to use the small legacy left by her late husband to buy the Old House and start a bookshop in the tiny Suffolk town of Hardborough-by-the-Sea. One would think the inhabitants would be grateful--as they've been without a bookstore since the day, more than 100 years ago, when "a bookseller in the High Street... knocked down one of the customers with a folio when he grew too quarrelsome." But aside from a reclusive gentleman and a few schoolchildren, Green has no allies. Her purchase of the Old House has scotched a conniving local grande dame's vision of an "arts centre," and Green's few small successes (most notably with Lolita) provoke the animus of fellow merchants. Fitzgerald is mordantly funny, especially when exposing the foibles of the town's extremely petty population, but this is by no means a jolly tale of English eccentrics. Hardborough is more like the Newfoundland of Annie Proulx and Howard Norman than, say, the Sussex of E.F. Benson, and this delightfully chill, damp, gothic little chronicle brings brilliantly to life parochial politics, the anxieties of starting anew at middle-age, the bleakness of a deteriorating fishing town on the North Sea and, of course, the exigencies of running a bookstore.