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The Bookshop Paperback – September 15, 1997

3.4 out of 5 stars 168 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since 1977, Penelope Fitzgerald has been quietly coming out with small, perfect devastations of human hope and inhuman (i.e., all-too-human) behavior. And now we have the opportunity to read "The Bookshop," her tragicomedy of provincial manners first published in 1978 in the U.K., but never available in the U.S. The Bookshop unfolds in a tiny Sussex seaside town, which by 1959 is virtually cut off from the outside English world. Postwar peace and plenty having passed it by, Hardborough is defined chiefly by what it doesn't have. It does have, however, plenty of observant inhabitants, most of whom are keen to see Florence Green's new bookshop fail. But rising damp will not stop Florence, nor will the resident, malevolent poltergeist (or "rapper," in the local patois). Nor will she be thwarted by Violet Gamart, who has designs on Florence's building for her own arts series and will go to any lengths to get it. One of Florence's few allies (who is, unfortunately, a hermit) warns her: "She wants an Arts Centre. How can the arts have a centre? But she thinks they have, and she wishes to dislodge you."

Once the Old House Bookshop is up and running, Florence is subjected to the hilarious perils of running a subscription library, training a 10-year-old assistant, and obtaining the right merchandise for her customers. Men favor works "by former SAS men, who had been parachuted into Europe and greatly influenced the course of the war; they also placed orders for books by Allied commanders who poured scorn on the SAS men, and questioned their credentials." Women fight over a biography of Queen Mary. "This was in spite of the fact that most of them seemed to possess inner knowledge of the court--more, indeed, than the biographer." But it is only when the slippery Milo North suggests Florence sell the Olympia Press edition of "Lolita" that Florence comes under legal and political fire.

Fitzgerald's heroine divides people into "exterminators and exterminatees," a vision she clearly shares with her creator--but the author balances disillusion with grace, wit, and weirdness, favoring the open ending over the moral absolute. Penelope Fitzgerald's internecine if gentle world view even extends to literature--books are living, jostling things. Florence finds that paperbacks, crowding "the shelves in well-disciplined ranks," vie with Everyman editions, which "in their shabby dignity, seemed to confront them with a look of reproach." One senses that classic hardcovers would welcome The Bookshop, despite its status as a paperback original. --Kerry Fried

From Library Journal

Florence Green, a widow, has lived for ten years in a small village in Suffolk, England. With a modest inheritance, she plans to open the first and only bookstore in the area. Florence purchases a damp, haunted property that has stood vacant for many years but encounters unexpected resistance from one of the local gentry, Mrs. Gamart, who has a sudden yen to establish an arts center in the same building. Florence goes ahead with her plan in spite of Mrs. Gamart and meets with some small success. However, Mrs. Gamart surreptitiously places obstacles in Florence's way, going so far as to have a nephew in Parliament write and pass legislation that eventually evicts Florence from her shop and her home. This work by veteran writer Fitzgerald (The Blue Flower, LJ 3/1/97), originally published in Great Britain, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978. Both witty and sad, it boasts whimsical characters who are masterfully portrayed. Highly recommended.
-?Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education, Providence
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co.; 1st edition (September 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395869463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395869468
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #640,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I noticed that several readers objected to the bleak ending of this book. Fortunately or unfortunately, I already knew the ending because it was given away in one of the New York Times reviews (don't they tell them not to do that?), and so I was prepared for it. Ms. Fitzgerald seems to me to be a genius: She is almost uncannily observant in terms of both landscape and character (including animals in the latter), and she provides a smooth and pleasant read in the tradition of Anita Brookner, Elizabeth Bowen, and Elizabeth Taylor -- a perfect book for a rainy Sunday and, for me, as satisfying as a pot of good English tea. A bit too much cuteness creeps in at times ("a bit twee," as the English would say), and I found the poltergeist not convincing. (However, I was interested to read in Amazon.con's interview with the author that the poltergeist was based on an actual experience of the author's in a real-life small-town bookstore.) All in all, I belive Ms. Fitzgerald will be a wonderful discovery for almost anyone who loves English literature.
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Format: Paperback
I had previously read, and been most disappointed by, Penelope Fitzgerald's novel The Gate of Angels. Thus, it is only because of its strong recommendations and very short length (if it's too bad, at least I won't waste a lot of time reading it) that I took up her novel The Bookshop. Dickensian in the naming of places (the book is set in Hardborough, which it certainly is) and some characters, but not in length (only 123 pgs), Lively tells the story of a middle-aged widow who invests her small inheritence in a bookstore, the only such enterprise in her new hometown. In so doing, she makes a few enemies, and is at last forced to succumb to the small-minded pettiness that rural communities can foster. This is a sad book, and it makes one grieve for how mean people can be when they wish. That said, it is an excellent novel, and ample food for thought
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Format: Paperback
This is a perfect novel. Fitzgerald, whom I was only recently introduced to, writes with precision and grace. In The Bookshop she exposes the small-mindedness of people in provincial places. In Hardborough the townsfolk are cruelly reminded of their relative irrelevance and, rather than stretch toward loftier horizons, they take aim at the book's protagonist and quash her dreams. A piercing stab at all that is colloquial, this book is also a funny satire of small-minded people. I'm surprised Fitzgerald is not more widely read on these shores (U.S.). What a talent.
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Format: Paperback
One of the ten best books I've ever read. The characters are drawn in just enough detail to be recognizable; the contrast between goodness and mean spiritedness is clear, yet all the characters are flawed. A poignant story with a powerful message that stays with you long after you've read this book. The Kirkus Review said something about it being not as deep as The Blue Flower. I disagree completely. This book is about real life, not about some ethereal vision.
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Format: Paperback
"The Book Shop" is not really a novel, but a tiny microcosm of a time and place long gone and yet still unfortunately true--a small English coastal town in the late 50s, where the efforts of one spunky widow to open up the village's only book shop are menaced by one nasty bully in the form of the town's most influential woman.
In very few words, Penelope Fitzgerald creates an atmosphere of almost overwhelming ennui...one can feel the fog coming off the sea (maybe a metaphor for the close-mindedness of most of the town's citizens) and feel the tension that is closing in on our heroine, Florence Green. With mighty strength, Florence doggedly tries to make a go of her book shop by steadfastly ignoring her enemy, Violet Gamart, who wants the premises for an "arts center."
The end is unbelievably sad, and more so because really, in four decades, nothing much has changed about human nature. This is a strange and depressing book, not to everyone's taste. I found it fascinating and well-written, but it takes some doing to get through it.
This is my first Fitzgerald novel, and I am now interested in seeing her style in her other books. I cannot comment on whether this is representative of her other writings, but I would defnitely recommend giving it a try.
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By A Customer on August 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
Florence is a lovely woman who wants to provide a service to her community while occupying herself during those lonely days on the island of Hardborough. Her husband has been dead some years, and she evolves a woman capable of taking care of herself.
She makes mistakes but also makes smart decisions. Her biggest error is that she fails to recognize that she is not just in the book business - she is in the people business too. It would have been interesting to rewrite the story with Florence being more sensitive to her neighbors weaknesses and vulnerabilities. She certainly could have made a success of the business if she had not isolated herself from the community (Although it seems many of the folks in Hardborough preferred the solitary life). It would have been fun to see her do more networking.
I thought it was beautifully written and bittersweet. At the end, Florence survives. All of us have failures to deal with and the good news is that Florence will continue to live the remainder of her years with the courage that she started the bookshop with. Why is it impossible to belive she might use that courage to be successful in another venture.
So, I did not find the story as depressing as others. In some ways it was uplifting knowing that there are certain things that nobody can steal from you. I recommend the book.
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