Book Review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978)

41jpcevUGeLThe Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

On an unusually upbeat evening, I was winding up from work. The recently bought, crisp, intense 300-pages long fictional drama, that I had left, tantalizingly, at the 273rd page the previous night, was softly tip-toeing in front of my eyes. The unread pages were already floating invitingly in the evening breeze and I could not wait to reach home for resuming the date. When I was just stepping into the lift, I received a call from a friend, a bibliophile in fact. ‘Hey! Do you know they are closing down L_____ ?! Can’t believe it man! I am .…….’

I was not listening. No more. The words that reverberated, at first, in concentric circles and then, suspended frozen, were‘closing down’. That place; so many books, so many friends, so many chuckles, so many revelations, so many years, so many memories….. so much, no more. The floating pages dropped dead, the tantalization turned grievous and the upbeat became deadbeat in an instant.

For many of us, a bookshop is the second home; for some, the first. Florence Green was a proud member of the latter category and was on a mission to enroll the sleepy town of Hardborough, Suffolk under the former. Sustained, most of her life, by the kinship, the euphoria, the enthusiasm and the solace emanating from brick structures immersed in sagacious thoughts and profound poetry, she was more pained than surprised to see that Hardborough, where she had moved after being bared of her familial ties, had no bookshop. Promising herself that her forty-something frame, both above the shoulders and below them, was steely enough to brave the bureaucratic hurdles and warm enough to spread the literary cuddles, she embarked upon filling this void by opening and running a bookshop from the ‘Old House’.

Courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.

And so were hers. The courage and endurance, which lay sheltered under the industrious shields of Christine, her 10-year old meticulous assistant, Ivy, her volatile-but-ethical accountant, Raven, the vagabond-but-helpful marshman and Wally, the mischievous courier boy-cum-cleaner came under trenchant attacks from the ill-disposed but politically powerful Mrs. Gamart, the supine-but-acerbic TV anchor, Milo and well, even the ‘poltergeist’ at the ‘Old House’. Florence fights, valiantly, through bundles of unsold stock, dwindling helping hands, dilapidating premises, legal impediments and shrinking hope.

But her internecine fight was not in vain. She gained, me.

When she continues to deliver free books to the primary schools despite her gloomy financial books, I stand there like a loyal visitor, enamored by her desire to spread the sparks of learning. When she trounces her duplicitous attorney with an authority that rivals those with the parliamentary sentinels at their disposal, I feel my hands instinctively rise to safeguard her from the legal barrage. And when her clamorous ordeal compels Mr. Brundish, the recluse boulevardier with highest distinction, to banish his decrepitude, drag his limp body, wound around a walking stick and counter Mrs. Gamart with a countenance to bring the wrongdoer to dirt, I could not help but feel proud.

Will-power is useless without a sense of direction.

But what direction did Florence choose in the end? I don’t know because she never told me. I guess no one, in her place, would have. Because people who love books and bookshops are much like them: they don’t believe in ends…

Bookshop Book plate section 1-2

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[Image courtesy http://www.overflowinglibrary.com ]

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