Book review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Official FC rating:
I’m actually disgusted with myself for having been deceived by this book, because the back of the book describes it perfectly. It’s a book about a widow, Florence Green, who “risks it all” to open a bookshop in her small seaside town. From the onset, when the people of her town hear that she is opening a bookshop it causes a stir of rumors. Her bookshop slowly becomes a success, but small-town politics create hostility since the shop is seen as impractical. Only until it is too late (for both Florence and the reader) does she realize a town that doesn’t have a bookshop doesn’t necessarily want one.
Shocker: the book ends with Florence leaving the town she has lived in for ten years of her life because the town never wanted a bookshop.
And that’s it. That is literally all this book is about. All 156 pages are about the small-town politics and economics of opening, and eventually closing, a bookshop. I actually didn’t bother reading all 156 pages once I got to the half-way point and came to my senses that this book was not going to get any better. So, I skipped to the very end and was not remotely shocked by the depressing AF conclusion.
This novella was so even keeled. I got past the half way point and was like, “oh…this book isn’t going to have a climax…because there’s hardly any direct conflict…” Penelope Fitzgerald, did you think straight up not using plot devices that typically hook readers was going to work out for you, or what?
I have no idea why I expected this book to be more exciting or interesting. Maybe I had high hopes for this book because, in the back of my mind for years, I’ve had dreams of one day owning a bookstore or working in a library (like when I retire or something).
The kicker is that Florence isn’t even that into books. She describes herself as a trained retailer, not a person who understands the arts or whether or not a book is a masterpiece. WHY EVEN OPEN A BOOKSHOP THEN??? (Maybe the ending was poetic justice, then. I just don’t know).
I thought maybe this book will be a deeply thought-provoking commentary on how society is more interested in money and technology than literature and the arts. To some degree, the book probably was about that a little- but mostly it was about small-town politics and how they generally suck.
I will grant that the author has captured the nastiness and pettiness of small-town politics well, but I don’t need to read a book about small-town politics- all I need to do is visit my hometown in rural, Upstate New York for that. And frankly, the small-town politics of my hometown are more interesting than this damn novella.
Small-town characters have the potential to be interesting and have a lot of personality (not a book, but see Gilmore Girls as an example). Like the style of writing itself, the characters were given little description and were also boring.
If you would like to read passages about bookkeeping, taking out loans, and random details about a small town in the UK, then by all means, read this book. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.