Friday, 10 July 2009

The Bookshop

I read The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald thinking "this is lovely", which is not to belittle it in any way because it really is lovely but it also eccentric, witty, and harsh. Harsh in that it deals with injustice, injustice that I was left indignant about. Here is the synopsis, courtesy of Waterstone's:

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.

The Bookshop was the first of Fitzgerald's novels to be nominated for the Man Booker (in 1978, the year The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch won); a prize she won herself in 1979 for Offshore. It is the first novel by Penelope Fitzgerald that I have read but I definitely intend to read more (not least the Booker winning novel), in the hope that they are all as darkly amusing. The Bookshop reminded me at times of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff in its charm; its dry wit and sly caricatures of people reminded me of Stella Gibbons and its heroine, Florence Green, could appear in any Persephone book and be friends with Mrs Pettigrew. I recommend this, as long as you don't mind unjust, unhappy endings.

Some favourite passages:

"'Culture is for amateurs. I can't run my shop at a loss. Shakespeare was a professional!'"

"She took a note of the title Lolita and the author's name. Nabokov. It sounded foreign - Russian, perhaps, she thought."

Dear Mr Thornton,
A good book is the precious life-blood of a masterspirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commondity.
Yours Sincerely,
Florence Green

"It would be better not to offer him stimulants, she thought.
'Shall I see about some coffee?' she asked."


Cornflower said...

I've yet to read this one, but I did enjoy The Blue Flower, Human Voices and (my favourite so far) The Gate of Angels.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Cornflower, I was planning on reading The Blue Flower at some point but I will definitely add the other two to the list - thanks!

farmlanebooks said...

The only book by Penelope Fitzgerald I have read is Offshore. I found it to be really slow and boring.

The Bookshop appeals to me a lot more and I actually bought a copy a few weeks ago. I'm not sure I'll get round to reading it soon, but I will one day.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, it's a really quick read. I'm glad to see that Offshore is a short one too as I am hoping to read it over the next few months along with some other Bookers.

Karen said...

This one sounds like the perfect read for me (I will adapt to an unhappy ending!). I will have to look out for it.

Darlene said...

I read your post yesterday and immediately went to my library's catalogue to see if we owned this book, we do! So I've placed a hold. Thanks.

Paperback Reader said...

Karen, I hope you do come across it. It is a lovely read.

Darlene, I hope you enjoy it!

Nymeth said...

This sounds so amazing! One more for my list.

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, it's not as wonderful as 84 Charing Cross Road but was a lovely read nonetheless. Lovely is an underrated word :).