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The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
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The Bookshop (1977)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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1,808995,554 (3.51)274
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English (82)  Spanish (10)  German (2)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
This is a tough one. It's ostensibly a very good book, but I (a) wasn't swept away with an overriding desire to read/finish it, and (b) was left in a somewhat disturbed state by it all. Which is probably a good thing, in one way, but it doesn't vault such a book into favourite status by any means. For someone who loves books (as I do) and generally wants their protagonists to succeed (I'm empathic!), this is a hard case, like animal lovers reading about doggy torture, or parents reading about terminal children.

I read this in response to a Goodreads request--I'd finished Hotel du Lac (where very little happens) and wondered who else wrote in a low-stakes kind of idiom. Fitzgerald was suggested, so I gave it a whirl. But while Brookner's book was at times humorous and delightful, and, say, Barbara Pym even more so, this one just felt bleak. Bleak and sad. Bleak, sad, and kind of cruel, like Lars Von Trier's Dogville but with a bookshop owner instead of Nicole Kidman.

When I wanted small, I guess I wanted small and sweet, not small and unbelievably depressing.

So three stars from me, sigh. But if she's written anything more cheerful, I'm definitely up for it! ( )
  ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
I adore books about books and libraries and bookshops, so I had really high hopes for this novel. Plus it's going to be a movie, it's got to be good right? Wrong. This books started out with promise. A middle aged widow decides she wants to open up a bookshop in her sleepy little coastal town. What could go wrong? Everything. The townspeople were bitches. She had one good neighbor and one good assistant (who was eleven and adorable), but pretty much everyone else set out to make sure she failed. And just wait til you get to the bloody end. Save yourself the pain of disappointment and skip over this. ( )
  ecataldi | Sep 10, 2018 |
The prejudices and idiosyncrasies of provincial, small-town people are illustrated perfectly and amusingly in this short novel. They really do not deserve a bookshop or a bookseller in their town. Florence Green need not hang her head in shame. ( )
  jon1lambert | Sep 7, 2018 |
Helaas en spijtig, dit boek kon mij maar matig boeien. De schrijfster wordt in één adem genoemd met Elizabeth Jane Howard en Jane Gardam; ik vond dit een beetje te weinig verhaal. Het voorwoord dat ik pas achteraf las, maakte wel het een en ander duidelijk. Maar toch ... ( )
  elsmvst | Aug 25, 2018 |
Lovely, gentle, sad book. I purchased it after seeing the film, and feeling that something was a little "off" with the adaptation. Reading the book confirmed that. Very little happens in the book - Florence Green, widow, uses her small capital to purchase The Old House (damp and haunted) and open a bookshop in a small East Anglian town. However she doesn't quite fit in and despite support from a number of other outsiders (Raven, Wally the sea scout, her small assistant Christine and the reclusive Mr Brundish) she is no match for the local power in the form of Mrs Gamart who cannot bear to see someone else succeed. Beautiful writing and very delicate and gentle. The film overplayed and exaggerated almost everything - read the book instead. ( )
  Figgles | Aug 8, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fitzgerald, Penelopeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bustelo, AnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
D'Amico, Masolinosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kada, Júliasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krüger, ChristaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicholls, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peters, DonadaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.
"Now, Mrs Green, if you'd catch hold of the [horse's] tongue. I wouldn't ask everybody, but I know you don't frighten.' "How do you know?" she asked. "They're saying that you're about to open a bookshop. That shows you're ready to chance some unlikely things."
Quotations
"Shall we just have a look at the transactions?" she asked, clicking her silver Eversharp, and using the tone which brought her employer to heel.
She opened one or two of [the books she's arranging in a new bookshop] - old Everyman editions in faded olive boards stamped with gold. There was the elaborate endpaper which she had puzzled over when she was a little girl. "A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
She kept two of the Everymans, which had never been very good sellers. One was Ruskin's "Unto this Last", the other was Bunyan's "Grace Abounding". Each had its old bookmark in it, "Everyman I will be thy guide, in thy most need go by thy side".
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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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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