Mini Review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Book Review of The Bookshop by Penelope FitzgeraldIn the small fishing town of Hardborough, England, Florence Green is determined to open a bookshop. She sets about her task by purchasing a damp, rundown, abandoned building, and the remaining stock from another town’s failed bookstore. The odds seem against Florence. To start, it is unclear whether the largely blue color town will support such a shop. Indeed, the matron of society, Mrs. Gamart, is against it. All the same, Florence hires a local girl to help out, gains the support of the highly esteemed and largely reclusive Mr. Brundish, and stubbornly refuses to change course. Will Mrs. Gamart’s social and political influence doom Florence to failure, or will the little bookshop prevail?

Curiously, my last review was about a book that reminded me of my college Lit classes. Similarly (though for vastly different reasons) The Bookshop would make an interesting course of study. Pure literary analysis indicates it is an exemplary piece of fiction. Without a doubt, it’s well-written. The composition is decidedly English – somehow both plainly and elegantly stated, with subtle and dry wit. It depicts a snapshot of a time and place that feels unerringly true-to-life.

However. My personal taste? This is not an enjoyable read. It makes for an interesting character study, but that is not to say I particularly liked the characters. My general reaction throughout was apathy. The story is stated so matter-of-factly it failed to draw me into the characters or plot. As a result, I never developed a strong attachment to the protagonist, and felt little concern for the antagonist. Things happened, I read about them, oh well.

This is the part where I spoil the ending a bit, so stop reading if you wish to read the book for yourself. Fairly warned? I shall proceed.

This book is proof that I prefer a happy ending. I understand what the author was doing, but still found the ending a letdown. The bookshop fails. Mrs. Gamart successfully uses her political influence, and Florence is forced to close shop. Furthermore, my two favorite characters (Mr. Brundish, the town recluse, and Christine, the local girl who helps in the shop) meet sad ends. Brundish dies, Christine fails to get into the school she wants and her future is looking bleak. Meanwhile, Florence quietly closes shop, loosing all her money, and moves out of town.

For all that, I wasn’t upset at the end. For the book never solicited enough emotion to warrant any sentiment. I merely felt dissatisfied, and ready to move on to a new book.

Interestingly, The Bookshop was adapted to the screen, with a phenomenal cast. From the trailer, it looks as though the movie version was embellished a bit for the screen. Or maybe it simply feels that way because the actors give the story a vitality that didn’t exist on the page. A movie that improves the book comes around rarely. Strangely, I have a suspicion I’ll enjoy the movie despite my disaffection for the book.

2 thoughts on “Mini Review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

  1. Thank you for the book review. I haven’t read the book…..and now probably won’t bother…thank you for saving me the time.
    I have however seen the movie. Wish I hadn’t!
    I assumed that the movie was poorly made and dreary due to the director being Spanish….I thought maybe something had been lost in translation. BUT the movie, despite the attempts of Bill Nighy to liven things up, was very flat….the characters wooden…the dialogue boring. The actors even looked a little embarassed to be there. Sounds to me like we should take one anothers advice and leave both the book and the movie alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no! I had high hopes for the movie, given the cast. Sounds like they stayed true to the book then. That’s unfortunate.

      Liked by 1 person

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