NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING EMILY MORTIMER, BILL NIGHY, AND PATRICIA CLARKSON
Short-listed for the Booker Prize
“A beautiful book, a perfect little gem.” —BBC Kaleidoscope
“A marvelously piercing fiction.” —Times Literary Supplement
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. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.
This new edition features an introduction by David Nicholls, author of One Day.
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.
A slice of English seaside village mores in a changing world
"Expectations are constantly denied, explanations withheld."
This tiny book, championed by many, tells the story of widowed Mrs Green, who takes her life savings and opens a small bookstore in a town where a bookstore might not be the best investment. When she was young, she had been a good clerk in a thriving bookstore, and perhaps now that she was alone again she might be grasping at happiness in opening one in an older run down building, sticking it at first with the remnants of a now closed bookstore.
The "powers that be" in this seaside village liked things as they were and consciously or perhaps unconsciously they turn the tide, forcing the shop closure. This is not a spoiler, more a death, and not the first or last we see.
Penelope Fitzgerald was known in her life to "champion the underdog" and this small book which can be read in a few hours reflects that. And that is one reason I will seek out her other books and go see the movie when/if it comes here. Recommended 4/5