Last week, I returned from a trip to the library with a pile of “quick reads.” Sometimes I just need to be able to read and read, but not all in one book, so I’ve enjoyed this week of short quick novels and novellas. One of the most enjoyable of those books was Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop. I’ve never read any of her work before, but I will now because I really liked this one! It’s very well-written, and was actually shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978.
It’s not a happy story, and much of Fitzgerald’s work is considered “tragic comedy.” She, herself, has said about her books:
“[My books] are too sad really to be comedies, but not important enough to be tragedies. And I’ve got…a great feeling for people who are defeated by life…They’re very decent sorts, usually, but it’s really all rather too much for all of them.”
The main character in The Bookshop fits that description very well. A widow, named Florence Green, decides to open a bookshop in a small English town called Hardborough. It’s not a welcoming town, and she is a novice businesswoman. Hardborough does not support her in any of her efforts, and many in the town go out of their way to undermine her success.
It’s a very interesting, succinctly written, view of human nature. Fitzgerald describes the brevity of her writing style:
“I do leave a lot out and trust the reader really to be able to understand it. [My books are] about twice the length…when they’re first finished, but I cut all of it out. It’s just an insult to [readers] to explain everything.”
If you’re in the mood for a quick read, with top quality writing, I highly recommend this little book.