The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Another of my favorite books — The Bookshop has been made into a film.

If you’ve not discovered Penelope Fitzgerald, well I’ll just say — you should.  She was a Booker Prize English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. And The Times included her in their list of the 50 greatest British writers.


The Bookshop is a human satire that plays out in a dreary, almost forgotten English seaside village, aptly named Hardborough. Florence Green opens her Old House Bookshop with some immediate success but is soon met with hostility from the town’s less prosperous shop owners.  But the most vocal is Mrs. Gamart, the local arts patron who had wanted the bookshop space for her high-minded art center.

Florence is strong, yet kind —  introspective but naive.  Her dream of bringing literature to Hardborough is met with  backbiting politics, and parochialism of a village resenting the intrusion of a relative newcomer.

To make matters worse, Florence discovers her bookshop comes with a leaky cellar, and even a ghost. 

Florence does have some friends, the reclusive Mr. Brundish, and the precocious eleven-year-old Christine who comes to work in the bookshop. But the thing that puts everyone over the edge in this 1959 English village is her window display of the new and controversial novel Lolita

It’s a good book and therefore you should try to sell it… They won’t understand it, but that is all to the good. Understanding makes the mind lazy.

Ms. Fitzgerald gives the reader a subtle, yet razor sharp, view into the insularity of a small village and how petty people can be when faced with change.

 Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.

I won’t sugar coat — this is not a feel-good bookstore novel.  The Bookshop is an often harsh story and there’s not a bit of romanticism.  And, sorry folks, there’s no happy ending, with everyone coming around to embrace the new bookshop.  The ending leaves many unanswered questions which, if you’re like me, you’ll ponder long afterwards.  I imagine just as the author wanted.  To quote from the book itself:

[She] loved the moment when you finished a book and the story keeps playing like the most vivid dream in your head.

The Bookshop is a lovely, sly little novel in which a morality tale becomes both simultaneously humorous and tragic

And a final warning, Ms. Fitzgerald requires slow and attentive reading, all the better to appreciate the gorgeous writing and sly humor.

The film opened a couple of days ago and I’m looking forward to seeing it.  The casting looks superb, I can only hope they don’t sprinkle it with too much saccharine.

Film trailer HERE

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