Comments about THE BOOKSHOP by Penelope Fitzgerald have run from “a little gem of a book” to “what was the point?” I fall someplace in between.
In the late ‘fifties, in an isolated seaside town, Florence Green decides to use her small inheritance to open a bookshop. The town of Hardborough has never had a bookshop, or much of anything else for that matter. Her decision barely is made before she runs into opposition. The other shop owners are barely seeing a profit and resent competition, plus Mrs. Gamart, the local expert on all things cultural, is venomously determined to keep the bookshop from happening.
THE BOOKSHOP is almost an anthem to how hard a small town, or small minds, will go to stay ordinary. It was hard for me to understand why people, especially the leader of the local social scene, would go to such great lengths to put a bookshop out of business.
The book is full of great but slightly underdeveloped characters. I am sure that was a deliberate move on the part of the author. The only person in town that Florence formed any relationship with was her very young assistant, ten year old Christine.
I loved the very subtle British humor of the author. So many of the throw away lines summed up people so well, especially Mrs. Gamart. People were kind to Mrs. Gamart because it made life easier.
The decision whether or not to carry the new sensation Lolita also told us much about the town residents. I was so afraid that Florence had ordered way too many copies for a shop in a small town; I was surprised how many she sold.
The style of writing is not one of my favorites, but it suited the book. The sentences had a tendency to ramble and jump around a bit. This seems to be the style of many modern British authors.