The Bookshop

The Bookshop

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544484092
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 48,350
Product dimensions: 7.80(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

PENELOPE FITZGERALD (1916–2000) was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction for The Blue Flower, the Booker Prize for Offshore, and three of her novels — The Bookshop,The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring — were short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Date of Birth:

December 17, 1916

Date of Death:

May 3, 2000

Place of Birth:

Lincoln, England

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Somerville College, Oxford University, 1939

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not. This was because of her worries as to whether to purchase a small property, the Old House, with its own warehouse on the foreshore, and to open the only bookshop in Hardborough. The uncertainty probably kept her awake. She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much. Florence felt that if she hadn't slept at all -- and people often say this when they mean nothing of the kind -- she must have been kept awake by thinking of the heron.

She had a kind heart, though that is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation. For more than eight years of half a lifetime she had lived at Hardborough on the very small amount of money her late husband had left her and had recently come to wonder whether she hadn't a duty to make it clear to herself, and possibly to others, that she existed in her own right. Survival was often considered all that could be asked in the cold and clear East Anglian air. Kill or cure, the inhabitants thought -- either a long old age, or immediate consignment to the salty turf of the churchyard.

She was in appearance small, wispy and wiry, somewhat insignificant from the front view, and totally so from the back. She was not much talked about, not even in Hardborough, where everyone could be seen coming over the wide distances and everything seen was discussed. She made small seasonal changes in what she wore. Everybody knew her winter coat, which was the kind that might just be made to last another year.

In 1959, when there was no fish and chips in Hardborough, no launderette, no cinema except on alternate Saturday nights, the need of all these things was felt, but no one had considered, certainly had not thought of Mrs Green as considering, the opening of a bookshop.

`Of course I can't make any definite commitment on behalf of the bank at the moment -- the decision is not in my hands -- but I think I may say that there will be no objection in principle to a loan. The Government's word up to now has been restraint in credit to the private borrower, but there are distinct signs of relaxation -- I'm not giving away any state secrets there. Of course, you'll have little or no competition -- a few novels, I'm told, lent out at the Busy Bee wool shop, nothing significant. You assure me that you've had considerable experience of the trade.'

Florence, preparing to explain for the third time what she meant by this, saw herself and her friend, their hair in Eugene waves, chained pencils round their necks, young assistants of twenty-five years ago at Muller's in Wigmore Street. It was the stocktaking she remembered best, when Mr Muller, after calling for silence, read out with calculated delay the list of young ladies and their partners, drawn by lot, for the day's checking over. There were by no means enough fellows to go round, and she had been lucky to be paired, in 1934, with Charlie Green, the poetry buyer.

`I learned the business very thoroughly when I was a girl,' she said. `I don't think it's changed in essentials since then.'

`But you've never been in a managerial position. Well, there are one or two things that might be worth saying. Call them words of advice, if you will.'

There were very few new enterprises in Hardborough, and the notion of one, like a breath of sea air far inland, faintly stirred the sluggish atmosphere of the bank.

`I mustn't take up your time, Mr Keble.'

`Oh, you must allow me to be judge of that. I think I might put it in this way. You must ask yourself, when you envisage yourself opening a bookshop, what your objective really is. That is the first question needful to a business of any kind. Do you hope to give our little town a service that it needs? Do you hope for sizeable profits? Or are you, perhaps, Mrs Green, a jogger along, with little understanding of the vastly different world which the 1960s may have in store for us? I've often thought that it's a pity that there isn't some accepted course of study for the small business man or woman ...'

Evidently there was an accepted course for bank managers. Launched on the familiar current, Mr Keble's voice gathered pace, with the burden of many waters. He spoke of the necessity of professional book-keeping, systems of loan repayment, and opportunity costs.

`... I would like to put a point, Mrs Green, which in all probability has not occurred to you, and yet which is so plain to those of us who are in a position to take the broader view. My point is this. If over any given period of time the cash inflow cannot meet the cash outflow, it is safe to predict that money difficulties are not far away.'

Florence had known this ever since her first payday, when, at the age of sixteen, she had become self-supporting. She prevented herself from making a sharp reply. What had become of her resolve, as she crossed the market place to the bank building, whose solid red brick defied the prevailing wind, to be sensible and tactful?

`As to the stock, Mr Keble, you know that I've been given the opportunity of buying most of what I need from Muller's, now that they're closing down.' She managed to say this resolutely, although she had felt the closure as a personal attack on her memories. `I've had no estimate for that as yet. And as to the premises, you agreed that 3,500 [pounds sterling] was a fair price for the freehold of the Old House and the oyster shed.'

To her surprise, the manager hestitated.

`The property has been standing empty for a long time now. That is, of course, a matter for your house agent and your solicitor -- Thornton, isn't it?' This was an artistic flourish, a kind of weakness, since there were only two solicitors in Hardborough. `But I should have thought the price might have come down further ... The house won't wall; away if you decide to wait a little ... deterioration ... damp ...'

`The bank is the only building in Hardborough which isn't damp,' Florence replied. `Working here all day may perhaps have made you too demanding.'

`... and then I've heard it suggested -- I'm in a position where I can say that I understand it may have been suggested -- that there are other uses to which the house might be put -- though of course there is always the possibility of a re-sale.'

`Naturally I want to reduce expenses to a minimum.' The manager prepared to smile understandingly, but spared himself the trouble when Florence added sharply `But I've no intention of re-selling. It's a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it I don't intend to retreat. What else do people think the Old House could be used for? Why haven't they done anything about it in the past seven years? There were jackdaws nesting in it, half the tiles were off, it stank of rats. Wouldn't it be better as a place where people could stand and look at books?'

`Are you talking about culture?' the manager said, in a voice half way between pity and respect.

`Culture is for amateurs. I can't run my shop at a loss. Shakespeare was a professional!'

It took less than it should have done to fluster Florence, but at least she had the good fortune to care deeply about something. The manager replied soothingly that reading took up a great deal of time. `I only wish I had more time at my disposal. People have quite wrong ideas, you know, about the bank's closing hours. Speaking personally, I enjoy very Little leisure in the evenings. But don't misunderstand me, I find a good book at my bedside of incalculable value. When I eventually retire I've no sooner read a few pages than I'm overwhelmed with sleep.'

She reflected that at this rate one good book would last the manager for more than a year. The average price of a book was twelve shillings and sixpence. She sighed.

She did not know Mr Keble at all well. Few people in Hardborough did. Although they were constantly told, by press and radio, that these were prosperous years for Britain, most of Hardborough still felt the pinch, and avoided the bank manager on principle. The herring catch had dwindled, naval recruitment was down, and there were many retired persons living on a fixed income. These did not return Mr Keble's smile or his wave out of the hastily wound-down window of his Austin Cambridge. Perhaps this was why he went on talking for so long to Florence, although the discussion was scarcely businesslike. Indeed it had reached, in his view, an unacceptably personal level.

Florence Green, like Mr Keble, might be accounted a lonely figure, but this did not make them exceptional in Hardborough, where many were lonely. The local naturalists, the reedcutter, the postman, Mr Raven the marshman, bicycled off one by one, leaning against the wind, the observed of all observers, who could reckon the time by their reappearance over the horizon. Not all of these solitaries even went out. Mr Brundish, a descendant of one of the most ancient Suffolk families, lived as closely in his house as a badger in its sett. If he emerged in summer, wearing tweeds between dark green and grey, he appeared a moving gorse-bush against the gorse, or earth against the silt. In autumn he went to ground. His rudeness was resented only in the same way as the weather, brilliant in the morning, clouding over later, however much it had promised.

The town itself was an island between sea and river, muttering and drawing into itself as soon as it felt the cold. Every fifty years or so it had lost, as though careless or indifferent to such things, another means of communication. By 1850 the Laze had ceased to be navigable and the wharfs and ferries rotted away. In 1910 the swing bridge fell in, and since then all traffic had to go ten miles round by Saxford in order to cross the river. In 1920 the old railway was closed. The children of Hardborough, waders and divers all, had most of them never been in a train. They looked at the deserted LNER station with superstitious reverence. Rusty tin strips, advertising Fry's Cocoa and Iron Jelloids, hung there in the wind.

The great floods of 1953 caught the sea wall and caved it in, so that the harbour mouth was dangerous to cross, except at very low tide. A rowing-boat was now the only way to get across the Laze. The ferryman chalked up his times for the day on the door of his shed, but this was on the far shore, so that no one in Hardborough could ever be quite certain when they were.

After her interview with the bank, and resigned to the fact that everyone in the town knew that she had been there, Florence went for a walk. She crossed the wooden planks across the dykes, preceded as she tramped by a rustling and splashing as small creatures, she didn't know of what kind, took to the water. Overhead the gulls and rooks sailed confidently on the tides of the air. The wind had shifted and was blowing inshore.

Above the marshes came the rubbish tip, and then the rough fields began, just good enough for the farmers to fence. She heard her name called, or rather she saw it, since the words were blown away instantly. The marshman was summoning her.

`Good morning, Mr Raven.' That couldn't be heard either.

Raven acted, when no other help was at hand, as a kind of supernumerary vet. He was in the Council field, where the grazing was let out at five shillings a week to whoever would take it, and at the extreme opposite end stood an old chestnut gelding, a Suffolk Punch, its ears turning delicately like pegs on its round poll in the direction of the human beings in its territory. It held its ground suspiciously, with stiffened legs, against the fence.

When she got within five yards of Raven, she understood that he was asking for the loan of her raincoat. His own clothes were rigid, layer upon layer, and not removable on demand.

Raven never asked for anything unless it was absolutely necessary. He accepted that coat with a nod, and while she stood keeping as warm as she could in the lee of the thorn hedge, he walked quietly across the field to the intensely watching old beast. It followed every movement with flaring nostrils, satisfied that Raven was not carrying a halter, and refusing to stretch its comprehension any further. At last it had to decide whether to understand or not, and a deep shiver, accompanied by a sigh, ran through it from nose to tail. Then its head drooped, and Raven put one of the sleeves of the raincoat round its neck. With a last gesture of independence, it turned its head aside and pretended to look for new grass in the damp patch under the fence. There was none, and it followed the marshman awkwardly down the field, away from the indifferent cattle, towards Florence.

`What's wrong with him, Mr Raven?'

`He eats, but he's not getting any good out of the grass. His teeth are blunted, that's the reason. He tears up the grass, but that doesn't get masticated.'

`What can we do, then?' she asked with ready sympathy.

`I can fare to file them,' the marshman replied. He took a halter out of his pocket and handed back the raincoat. She turned into the wind to button herself into her property. Raven led the old horse forward.

`Now, Mrs Green, if you'd catch hold of the 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.'

He slipped his finger under the loose skin, hideously wrinkled, above the horse's jawbone and the mouth gradually opened in an extravagant yawn. Towering yellow teeth stood exposed. Florence seized with both hands the large slippery dark tongue, smooth above, rough beneath, and, like an old-time whaler, hung gamely on to it to lift it clear of the teeth. The horse now stood sweating quietly, waiting for the end. Only its ears twitched to signal a protest at what life had allowed to happen to it. Raven began to rasp away with a large file at the crowns of the side teeth.

`Hang on, Mrs Green. Don't you relax your efforts. That's slippery as sin I know.'

The tongue writhed like a separate being. The horse stamped with one foot after another, as though doubting whether they all still touched the ground.

`He can't kick forwards, can he, Mr Raven?'

`He can if he likes.' She remembered that a Suffolk Punch can do anything, except gallop.

`Why do you think a bookshop is unlikely?' she shouted into the wind. `Don't people want to buy books in Hardborough?'

`They've lost the wish for anything of a rarity,' said Raven, rasping away. `There's many more kippers sold, for example, than bloaters that are half-smoked and have a more delicate flavour. Now you'll tell me, I dare say, that books oughtn't to be a rarity.'

Once released, the horse sighed cavernously and stared at them as though utterly disillusioned. From the depths of its noble belly came a brazen note, more like a trumpet than a horn, dying away to a snicker. Clouds of dust rose from its body, as though from a beaten mat. Then, dismissing the whole matter, it trotted to a safe distance and put down its head to graze. A moment later it caught sight of a patch of bright green angelica and began to eat like a maniac.

Raven declared that the old animal would not know itself, and would feel better. Florence could not honestly say the same of herself, but she had been trusted, and that was not an everyday experience in Hardborough.

What People are Saying About This

Anita Brookner

No writer is more engaging than Penelope Fitzgerald.

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Bookshop 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I decided to read this little book in tandem with a few other women. We have yet to discuss it, but I expect all will agree that the writing is lovely. So many aspects of small town life are amusingly unveiled by this author. I especially enjoyed the character of the 10-year-old shop assistant, who smacks a customer with a ruler when they are rummaging in the 'Holds' shelf. The ending, however was grim and disapointing to me. I was expecting a charming and witty conclusion consistent with the tenor of the preceding story. What the reader is left with is a morality tale with a bad aftertaste.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many have commented on how brief this work is. There is no arguing the point, as ¿The Bookshop¿ is brief as defined by the pages it occupies. Ms. Fitzgerald also writes concisely, however she conveys as much or more than many who would take two or three times the length of this work to tell the same story. The result would be no better; nothing more would have been related, and the reader would have just consumed more time. The events in the story come to the reader as they affect the central character. We are not privy to every conversation between other characters, nor do we witness their every thought, their every action. Just as we do day to day, we receive and react to information and events, as we are made aware of them. We share the fears, the suspicions, and the insight Florence has, but that is where it ends. We are not taken away from her to hear the plans set in motion by others; we have little advantage over her in terms of information that we alone possess. I think the book is brilliant because it tells a story the way any of us would have experienced the events if they had happened to us. Ms. Fitzgerald cuts away anything that is remotely extraneous, but what she leaves is beautifully compact and true to life. I have just started her work ¿The Blue Flower¿ which is massive in comparison, should be interesting.
TheBibliovert 29 days ago
Fast Read, Frustrating, Heartbreaking The Bookshop is a well-written story.  The main character, Florence Green, is a strong-willed lady with the idea of opening a bookshop, in Hardborough, in 1959.  She faces many obstacles and injustices along the way.  However, If you are looking for a happy ending to this story, you have the wrong book. Overall, The Bookshop, is a sad book, beginning, middle, and end. There is no happiness to be found in this book which made it a bit difficult to digest. "Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have."
Anonymous 10 months ago
A quick but thoroughly enjoyable book. The nuanced character dissections were a thrill. I laughed aloud, shared frustrations, had pangs and eye-opening wonders at this astutely observed little community.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another charmer by Penelope Fitzgerald! The courageous Florence Green attempts to open a bookshop even though the local odds are against her. Or should I say that the odd lcoals are against her?! The shop supporters battle valiantly against the social matriarch of the small community....you have to love the local vet, Raven, the 10 year old knuckle rapping Christine, and the recluse who comes out to battle to the death for the bookshop, Mr. Brundish. This is a novella perfect for a long afternoon read in your favorite chair!
amandajoy30 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was ok. The story was nice and the characters were interesting. It was a very sweet and innocent read.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1959, Florence Green opens a bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough, a quintessential small village in which everyone knows everyone else¿s business¿and many people are resistant to change. Flying in the face of opposition, Florence opens her shop, which is popular at first¿and then various interfering busybodies in Hardborough try to shut her down.I thought that Florence as a character was a little bit flat and she tends to take back seat to some of the more interesting characters such as Christine, Florence¿s assistant, or even the small-minded Violet Gamart. Florence doesn¿t seem to be much of a reader; for example, when she reads the reviews that Lolita has gotten, she asks Milo to read it instead of reading it herself. She doesn¿t even seem to care too much when the townspeople try to shut the bookshop down. As an avid book reader, I obviously see how the possible closing of the bookshop is tragic, but since Florence doesn¿t care all that much about her fate and that of the bookshop, why should the reader? As a result, the emotional impact of the ending of the book wasn¿t as great for me as it could have been.However, the narrative flow of the book is good, and you as the reader find yourself wishing that the bookshop will succeed. Speaking from the bibliophilic point of view, the tone of this short novel is sad; how can so many people be so small-minded about something so innocuous as a bookshop? The people in Hardborough are certainly resistant to change. Aside from my major problems with the main character, I really did enjoy this book about books. There¿s even a poltergeist to keep things interesting.
jklavanian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading Offshore, had to read more of Penelope Fitzgerals's book. The Bookshop is equally good. But I'm beginning to wonder if there is ever an upbeat ending. I'll have to keep reading, because her writing is so beautiful.
EnriqueFreeque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
NEWS ALERT: Indie bookshops are closing left and right at alarmingly rapid rates everywhere; in both big cities like Chicago and English villages like Hardborough, the latter the quaint setting for Penelope Fitzgerald's, Man Booker shortlisted, second novel, The Bookshop; they're being shut down, the bookshops, as if they were sweatshops run by misers, seemingly every time you scan the morning headlines in Shelf Awarenes.Old news, bookstore closures? It wasn't old news in 1978, when Penelope Fitzgerald published The Bookshop, perhaps adding prescience to the poignancy already in glowing abundance in these bittersweet, but ravenously delectable pages about a courageous, recent widow's dream to do something (and to be somebody) different: Independent for the first time in her life: A bookseller. Brave woman.Florence Green (a pity her last name is so descriptively apt concerning her business acumen), itching for adventure and a means of making her own way in the world for the first time since her husband's death, takes a huge, optimistic gamble, and opens her bookshop in a long-vacated, leaking, draughty and dilapidated, antiquated structure befitting its name - "The Old House" - in an English village with an ominous name of its own: Hardborough. Indeed it's hard starting up any business anywhere, but a bookshop in an establishment as rickety and sodden as the Old House? Can you imagine? Isn't dampness and draught anathema to pulp? Water-stained books are not fast sellers.And isn't location everything too for a bookshop? Florence Green has chosen a site in an everybody-knows-everybody hamlet that has one unpaved road in, and just that same frequently flooded and muddied (when the high-tide rolls in) road out. Might be easy to open a bait-and-tackle shop at such a site, but a bookshop?And did I mention that the Old House is haunted by what the locals term a "rapper"? An entity that, no, does not wear a baseball cap sideways nor work double turntables simultaneously, but whom makes a lot of racket nonetheless. And knocks over books and sticker displays. The ghostly nuisance of such a benign poltergeist!Despite the odds stacked against Florence; and despite Violet Gamart and her uppity political power dead-set against the bookshop, for awhile, with the aid of an eleven year old girl, Christine Gipping, as well a part-time bookkeeper, and the most honorable auspices of the veritable heart and soul of Hardborough itself, Mr. Brundish, Florence Green is able to make a good go with her bookshop, and for a year, she's relatively, surprisingly, successful. Even her lending library is a smash.But not everyone is so thrilled with her success. Surrounding business's are jealous. Violet Gamart, (the Ice-Queen of Hardborough) isn't happy, either, her fairy-tale visions of the Old House becoming an "Arts Centre" for the town thwarted by this naive entrepreneur, Florence Green.Florence Green would've been wiser not to give Christine Gipping, her eleven-year-old, impulsive part-timer, so much authority in the lending library, turns out, especially on the occasion of Violet Gamart's very first visit to the store. Precocious Christine, strictly abiding by the checkout lending rules, "intervenes" rather rudely (but within her rights!) as Violet Gamart attempts to procure for herself a volume out of turn. There's a waiting list, Lady, abide by it! A swift ruler-thwack to Violet's knuckles and...The Old House Bookshop, unfortunately, inevitably is doomed. Sorry to not warn of spoilers, but the book (a novella really) lets you know soon that there won't be a happy ending.Penelope Fitzgerald's style is concise and fast paced, but full like a hearty homecooked meal leaves you full. The book is small, though, diminuitive, a diamond: perfect in equilateral literary geometric dimensions that only enhance its shiniest story sparkle. The Bookshop, in 123 pages, sparkles like that perfe
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very slow read. It's almost as though instead of a plot, the author is working at creating a mood, and in that regard, she succeeds. The entire story has a feeling of unease, but I kept waiting for more excitement.
mphchicago on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A nasty little village populated by mean and annoying characters. I didn't even like the supposedly "kindly" woman whose dream it was to open the bookshop. She had no love of books whatsoever. The story seemed choppy and not quite fleshed out but I don't think I could have taken anymore along the same lines.
TheTwoDs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Penelope Fitzgerald¿s concise look at a small, backwater English village¿s reception of a new bookstore brims with detailed examinations of 1950¿s life in this locale. Think of the character types of Thornton Wilder¿s Our Town transposed from New England to Old. Our protagonist, recently widowed, decides to open a bookstore in a dilapidated old building located in a hardscrabble seaside village that the 20th century seems to have passed by. She is thwarted at every turn by various people, including the relatively wealthy and powerful local ¿arts scene¿ doyenne, a poltergeist, and a shortage of passionate readers. The small-town political machinations are vividly depicted, including battles over censorship and child labor. All in all, an invigorating read, apt for these times in which independent bookstores are closing left and right.
wandering_star on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1959, a middle aged woman opens a bookshop in an East Anglian village - unwittingly crossing the village's self-styled doyenne of the arts in the process. The story unfolds from there, first as a genteel comedy of manners, and later with a darker, sadder twist. Early on, the narrator suggests that Florence (the shop owner) is naive not to think that people are "divided into exterminators and exterminatees, with the former, at any given moment, predominating". The word 'exterminator' seems overstated at the time, but becomes apter. The book is wittily written and I enjoyed reading it. I did feel that the ending all came about rather suddenly, and unexpectedly different in tone from what had gone before - but then, this is the same way that it was experienced by Florence, so I suppose we are experiencing that along with her. But for me, it didn't really live up to the rave reviews - it was a bit too light.
tjblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is listed as YA, but it doesn't read like a YA story. It's a short, quick read set in Hardborough, England in 1959. It's about a middle-aged widow and the difficulties she has in opening and running a bookstore.
Voracious_Reader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure that I liked The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. The story feels like it's over before it has begun. The characters are considerately crafted, but what a downer. She artfully recreates the backbiting and constant gossip of a small town where the inhabitants attempt to keep things the same or control all things at all costs. How dare anyone attempt to elevate themselves without their permission? It was very well-written, but I can't say it was enjoyable to read about people behaving horribly.
Wildegenes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a mere 123 pages Penolope Fitzgerald introduces us to a cast of at least a dozen characters populating a village in Britain's East Anglia. A few deft sentences and we get the look and style of each one. She does this by first evoking a distinct sense of place. It is easy to read this book in a couple of hours. Charmed by the eccentricities of the villagers and the humble courage of Florence Green the reader is lulled into believing all will be well. The betrayals therefore are all the more devastating. This is not a book to read when you are feeling low.
Lman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With very few words this book sure says a lot! The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald offers, within a slim framework, a tiny glimpse into a fragment of a local community chock-full of small-minded people, and creates a huge impression!When the widow Florence Green - who, in truth, has been existing, rather than living, for the last eight years in the coastal village of Hardborough, East Anglia - decides to open a bookshop in this isolated area, reactions are mixed. In order to succeed at this unusual venture Florence has to overcome a series of obstacles: human, inanimate and preternatural; but chiefly those placed in her path by the district authorities, from her bank manager and her solicitor, to the county society doyenne, Violet Gamart. In what is essentially a concise, but elegantly-detailed construction of Florence's experiences, as she organises the purchase, renovation, opening and daily running of her bookshop, the minutia of life in this damp and dying community also unfolds.This book is probably best described as a sad little tale accentuating, with clever understatement and adroit particulars, the foibles of life in a diminished seaside village ¿ and the endeavours of some of the petty inhabitants to increase, at the expense of others, their inconsequential significance. The genius in the text is the meticulous description of the desultory specifics of local life, thus providing a depth of analysis, intimated delicately between the lines, for the reader to ponder. There is so much more to this tale in what is left unsaid than in what is written. And what is written is just delightful: when Florence sets up in the 'Old House' - named for the fact that it is one of the oldest structures in this already ancient area - the shop is, of course, named "The Old House Bookshop" - how not!This is my first Penelope Fitzgerald ¿ and it won¿t be my last. There is an economy of style and degree of skill, in her writing, to depict a mood, an atmosphere, an ambience, that is all the more striking with the brevity of the work. There is nothing uncommon in this small-town situation the author portrays: the fear of the unusual with an intense phobia surrounding any change, any disruption to the status quo. The author has, however, with exceptional ability, created precisely, and concisely, an absorbing tale in regards to such, which is also, on the whole, quite touching.
pokarekareana on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really liked the characters, and the sense of place was good. The plot was a bit slow in places, and I felt a bit disappointed with the ending; I think I would have liked more resistance to the unpleasant behaviour of some of the characters from the protagonist and those around her. It could have been more dramatic, but definitely a great effort from somebody who came to writing late in life.
readingwithtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Florence Green, whom life seems to have passed by, dares to open a bookshop in The Old House in a seaside village in East Anglia. She takes on the polite but ruthless local opposition, the disintegrating old house and the supernatural in her endeavour. However, 1959 is not a kind year to widows opening small businesses.First off, the writing is beautiful. Fitzgerald cultivates a small but clever cast of personalities, with a gentle gradation of character development. To quote the TLS from the back cover: "Fitzgerald's resources of odd people are impressively rich". At 153 pages, this is definitely one of the shortest books I have read since I graduated from the Famous Five and Secret Seven. However, I'm not sure that added length would add anything to the novel, as we focus only on Florence's time in the village. In a larger work covering all of Florence's life, her time in the village would probably occupy this many pages, so in a sense it's not small at all, just precisely focussed.There's not much of a plot but that is a pleasant change for me, given that I usually read very plot-driven novels (e.g. Clive Cussler). We pass ten years in Florence's company (almost exclusively), in a succession of episodes and moments which introduce us to some strange people with peculiar motivations. Some of them threaten to descend to farce (particularly the old man who keels over dead in the market square), but poor Florence remains fixed solidly in realism throughout.One character who is exquisitely captured is young Christine. The ten-year-old bookshop assistant is proud and proper but smacks a customer over the hand with a ruler. She confides in Florence and listens to her, but runs off in a huff when her schooling takes an unfortunate twist. Like Marcus in About A Boy and Alan Bradley's spectacular efforts with Flavia, Christine is a beautiful child who springs off the page into the reader's heart.The villagers are an odd mob and are strangely set against Florence - whether this is due to the interference of the village's most prominent member of society is not quite clear, which adds to the charm; the reader cannot be sure of the minor characters' motivations. I'm still confused by Milo North. The poltergeist embodies the village spirit, in that he is loudest and most disruptive when Florence is successful. I was apprehensive about the introduction of the poltergeist, but it was neatly done. Fitzgerald has a gentle touch with irony, and it lightens the sombre mood regularly.I had some questions which were not answered (the circumstances of her being widowed, what her connection to the village is or why she moved there), and they are not answered precisely because the focus is only on her time in the village. However, the answers aren't important.Favourite quotes: "She had a kind heart, though that is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation." "She had been trusted, and that was not an everyday experience in Hardborough" "Her disappointment, however, endeared her to the shopkeepers of Hardborough. They had all known better, and could have told her so." "Gentleness is not kindness. His fluid personality tested and stole into the weak places of other until it found it could settle down to its own advantage" "Lord Gosfield was touched, though he had said nothing all evening, and had in fact driven the hundred odd miles expressly to say nothing in the company of his old friend Bruno"I would definitely be interested in reading more FitzGerald after this, and I hope someone decides to make a film out of this - I can just see Jennifer Ehle, Helen Blaxendale or even Helena Bonham-Carter bustling about a little bookshop with the grey East Anglian sea in the background...Reviews from other bloggers: dovegreyreader, Savidge Reads, Novel Insights, Sasha and the Silverfish, The Mookse and the Gripes
FrancescaFB More than 1 year ago
sandpiper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up a while back because (a) the author had been recommended to me, and (b) I'd won another of her books in a ferret-naming competition, so I was keeping an eye out for what else she'd written. I was attracted by the cover, and I love bookshops, so it was an easy decision to buy.Last night, I was struggling with a non-fiction book, and just wanted some fiction which was easy to get into. I chose this one, largely because it was a short book, so I thought we would be straight into the plot. And we were. Before I reached the bottom of the first page, the main character was starting to form in my mind. By the end of the second page, the groundwork was laid for the plot. A masterful beginning.I'm afraid I rather raced through the book, as I was eager to learn how the story progressed. Being set in 1959, there was a distinct class divide in the town, but with hints of the way this was beginning to change in British society. But at its base is a stonking good story, with some characters you are rooting for, some you are booing from the sidelines, and some you can't quite make out, with a good dollop of gentle humour. Recommended.
knittingfreak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Fitzgerald that I've read. It's a fun novella that is full of small town charm and wit. Florence Green, a widow, decides to open a bookshop in the Old House in the tiny coastal town of Hardborough. Much to her surprise, she soon discovers that not everyone in this tiny little community is excited about her new venture. It seems that even though the Old House has been sitting empty for ages, once Florence decides to purchase it for her bookshop, others suddenly have ideas for the place themselves. It's not only some of the townsfolk that she must contend with, but she also must contend with the rapper who occupies the Old House, as well. Before you get the wrong idea, the rapper in this case is a poltergeist that isn't too thrilled to have someone living in the house again. But, Florence doesn't let the people or the poltergeist stop her from realizing her dream. After much negotiation with the bank manager, Florence gets the loan and begins the task of turning the Old House into a proper bookshop.The book is full of interesting characters (besides the rapper) such as Christine, the 10-year old girl who becomes Florence's assistant in the store. Like all of the children in Hardborough, Christine is used to hard work and seems older than her years. Mrs. Gamart is the self-appointed matron of Hardborough along with her husband the General. While most of the townsfolk simply think Florence's shop will fail, Mrs. Gamart is openly against the idea. For she has decided that Hardborough requires an arts center, and the Old House is the perfect place for it. Never mind the fact that it has sat empty for years. There's really only a couple people who actually support Florence in her endeavor, one being an eccentric recluse whom she only meets in person once. This is a fun book with great descriptions of small town life in a coastal village and a cast of very colorful characters. I will definitely be seeking out more books by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Zmrzlina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very often I was reminded of The Remains of the Day while reading this book. There is the same melancholy acceptance of the way things are, though the way may not be fair. But in The Bookshop, Florence Green, the protagonist, does try to change the way things are. The story doesn't relay on Florence Green's success or failure though. It relies on the reader's ability to hold the hope that just because something has always been one way doesn't mean it has to always be one way.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent little book that packs a big emotional wallop into just slightly more than 100 pages. Florence Green is a widower with a small inheritance who decides to open a bookshop in a small seaside town in England.Fitzgerald's writing reminds me of William Maxwell's. Both writers use words economically, but precisely. Both seem to emphasize character over plot. Both are stunningly good.There's a quote on the back cover of this book that I think sums it up nicely. (I don't usually quote cover text, but this seems appropriate.)"Balzac, an expert on how nasty people can be to one another in small country places, once said that the ordinariness of human lives can never be a measure of the effort it takes to keep them going. Anyone who has found this to be true will admire Florence Green for her wit and her innocent courage, a courage that comes from simply choosing to survive."I think this story will haunt me for a while.
rokinrev More than 1 year ago
"Expectations are constantly denied, explanations withheld." This tiny book, championed by many, tells the story of widowed Mrs Green, who takes her life savings and opens a small bookstore in a town where a bookstore might not be the best investment. When she was young, she had been a good clerk in a thriving bookstore, and perhaps now that she was alone again she might be grasping at happiness in opening one in an older run down building, sticking it at first with the remnants of a now closed bookstore. The "powers that be" in this seaside village liked things as they were and consciously or perhaps unconsciously they turn the tide, forcing the shop closure. This is not a spoiler, more a death, and not the first or last we see. Penelope Fitzgerald was known in her life to "champion the underdog" and this small book which can be read in a few hours reflects that. And that is one reason I will seek out her other books and go see the movie when/if it comes here. Recommended 4/5