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The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
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The Bookshop (1977)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Mrs. Green is the little engine that could, but can she defy the odds? There are many interesting characters and humorous episodes and interchanges. ( )
  bkinetic | Mar 23, 2017 |
Reading this in conjunction with other nominees for the 1978 Booker Prize, like Jane Gardam's God on the Rocks and Kingsley Amis's Jake's Thing, really does give you this impression of 70s England as a place of small towns, insular gossip, hostility to new ideas, and a preoccupation with quotidian concerns over any sense of the wider world. In a sense, fair enough – but one does slightly yearn for a little more ambition and pizzazz in the novelling world. By comparison, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, which I didn't entirely love when I read it years ago, seems like a worthy winner; it took those parochial English elements and made them into something archetypal, something mythic and strange and genuinely literary.

That said, there is loads to like about most of the choices and this brief study in disillusion and small-town rivalries is no exception. Fitzgerald teeters on the edge of tweeness but her writing is unsentimental enough and her characters believable enough to cope with it. My favourite moments came in the unexpected flashes of local landscape and custom – the marshman filing a horse's teeth, the uninhabited housing development slowly falling off the cliffs, the matter-of-fact Suffolk poltergeist inhabiting the bookshop.

I was left impressed with Fitzgerald's steely refusal to sugar-coat her narrative's decline and fall – even if, for me, it was hard not to wish she'd found a way to sublimate it all into something a bit more transcendent at the end. But Britain in 1978 was clearly about as untranscendent as you can get. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Feb 23, 2017 |
An odd little book. A quick,easy read. I would recommend it. ( )
  LauGal | Aug 16, 2016 |
This is a odd little story. Florence Green opens a bookshop in the Old House in Hardborough. This is a seaside community. The society types in the town are against her bookshop. They do what they can to close it.
I won't give away the ending.It is a short,qucik read.
( )
  LauGal | Aug 16, 2016 |
Fitzgerald is able to create a detailed backdrop in character and setting for a story about a woman determined to open a bookstore in a small coastal English village. For anyone who has grown up in a small community, you can almost see the ending coming, as she alienates locals and is finally forced to give up her dream. ( )
  brangwinn | Jul 7, 2016 |
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In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0395869463, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:15 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The pettiness of an English seaside town. It is described by Florence Green, a middle-aged widow who buys a house for a bookshop, something the town has not had for over a century. Leading her enemies is Mrs. Gamart who wanted the house for an arts center.… (more)

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