2016: 37. The Bookshop

“In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.”

The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

This book was the selection at my new bookclub and it was a great choice! First of all, it’s an older book, so you can get it at libraries, and second, it’s very short (156 pages in the edition I read) but best of all, despite the brevity, there is so much to talk about.  Indeed, the host of our bookclub did some research, and learned that Fitzgerald tended to write long drafts, and then pare the book down to the essentials.  Which makes for very interesting discussions.

The Bookshop was shortlisted for the Booker, and Fitzgerald later won the Booker for Offshore.  As you can see, if you click the link, I wasn’t a huge fan of Offshore, but The Bookshop has a very different tone (though some of the same underlying melancholy).  The Bookshop is a satire of a small town in Britain in 1959, where a middle aged woman tries to open a bookstore where one has not been before.  It’s both funny (oh my lord there are some amazing quotes herein) and sad, and frustrating, and lovely.  And (and I thought this about Offshore as well), Fitzgerald is amazing at sketching real, compelling characters as compactly as possible.  The books are so brief, but the people all exist - you remember them and they act like real (often maddening) people.  

My one recommendation, if you read this in the edition linked above, is that you not read the introduction by David Nicholls.  It not only gives away much too much plot (for such a short book!), but it colored my reading experience. Others in book club (who had different editions) had a very different expereince of the text, and I think it’s because I was given a preexisting experience from the introduction.  Read it on its own merits, and then come back and tell me what you think.  There is a lot to talk about here that I didn’t even mention, so that your experience wouldn’t be colored like mine!!

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017