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The Bookshop

The Bookshop

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The Bookshop

3.5/5 (81 оценки)
152 pages
2 hours
Sep 15, 1997



Short-listed for the Booker Prize
“A beautiful book, a perfect little gem.” —BBC Kaleidoscope
“A marvelously piercing fiction.” —
Times Literary Supplement

In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop—the only bookshop—in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.

This new edition features an introduction by David Nicholls, author of One Day.
Sep 15, 1997

Об авторе

Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most distinctive voices in British literature. The prize-winning author of nine novels, three biographies and one collection of short stories, she died in 2000.

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The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald


Copyright © 1978 by Penelope Fitzgerald

Introduction copyright © 2014 by David Nicholls

Preface copyright © 2013 by Hermione Lee

Second Mariner Books edition 2015

First published in Great Britain by Gerald Duckworth and Co., Ltd. in 1978

Reprinted by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers


For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN 978-0-544-48409-2 (pbk.)

Cover illustration © Julie Morstad

eISBN 978-0-547-52477-1


Penelope Fitzgerald

Preface by Hermione Lee, Advisory Editor

When Penelope Fitzgerald unexpectedly won the Booker Prize with Offshore, in 1979, at the age of sixty-three, she said to her friends: ‘I knew I was an outsider.’ The people she wrote about in her novels and biographies were outsiders, too: misfits, romantic artists, hopeful failures, misunderstood lovers, orphans and oddities. She was drawn to unsettled characters who lived on the edges. She wrote about the vulnerable and the unprivileged, children, women trying to cope on their own, gentle, muddled, unsuccessful men. Her view of the world was that it divided into ‘exterminators’ and ‘exterminatees’. She would say: ‘I am drawn to people who seem to have been born defeated or even profoundly lost.’ She was a humorous writer with a tragic sense of life.

Outsiders in literature were close to her heart, too. She was fond of underrated, idiosyncratic writers with distinctive voices, like the novelist J. L. Carr, or Harold Monro of the Poetry Bookshop, or the remarkable and tragic poet Charlotte Mew. The publisher Virago’s enterprise of bringing neglected women writers back to life appealed to her, and under their imprint she championed the nineteenth-century novelist Margaret Oliphant. She enjoyed eccentrics like Stevie Smith. She liked writers, and people, who stood at an odd angle to the world. The child of an unusual, literary, middle-class English family, she inherited the Evangelical principles of her bishop grandfathers and the qualities of her Knox father and uncles: integrity, austerity, understatement, brilliance and a laconic, wry sense of humour.

She did not expect success, though she knew her own worth. Her writing career was not a usual one. She began publishing late in her life, around sixty, and in twenty years she published nine novels, three biographies and many essays and reviews. She changed publisher four times when she started publishing, before settling with Collins, and she never had an agent to look after her interests, though her publishers mostly became her friends and advocates. She was a dark horse, whose Booker Prize, with her third novel, was a surprise to everyone. But, by the end of her life, she had been shortlisted for it several times, had won a number of other British prizes, was a well-known figure on the literary scene, and became famous, at eighty, with the publication of The Blue Flower and its winning, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Yet she always had a quiet reputation. She was a novelist with a passionate following of careful readers, not a big name. She wrote compact, subtle novels. They are funny, but they are also dark. They are eloquent and clear, but also elusive and indirect. They leave a great deal unsaid. Whether she was drawing on the experiences of her own life—working for the BBC in the Blitz, helping to make a go of a small-town Suffolk bookshop, living on a leaky barge on the Thames in the 1960s, teaching children at a stage-school—or, in her last four great novels, going back in time and sometimes out of England to historical periods which she evoked with astonishing authenticity—she created whole worlds with striking economy. Her books inhabit a small space, but seem, magically, to reach out beyond it.

After her death at eighty-three, in 2000, there might have been a danger of this extraordinary voice fading away into silence and neglect. But she has been kept from oblivion by her executors and her admirers. The posthumous publication of her stories, essays and letters is now being followed by a biography (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee, Chatto & Windus, 2013), and by these very welcome reissues of her work. The fine writers who have done introductions to these new editions show what a distinguished following she has. I hope that many new readers will now discover, and fall in love with, the work of one of the most spellbinding English novelists of the twentieth century.


For several years in the mid-1990s I worked in a West London bookshop, running the children’s department with a rod of iron and supervising, with noisy resentment, the section called ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’. My colleagues for the most part were English Literature graduates or postgraduates, knowledgeable and passionate about the written word. Yes, we were shop assistants but the fact that we sold books, as opposed to socks or potatoes or saucepans, gave the job a certain respectability, kudos almost. Even if our bestsellers were sporting biographies or SAS memoirs or greetings cards, bookselling was practically a branch of academia. Books mattered, they were different, they were ‘improving’.

Florence Green, the heroine of Fitzgerald’s second novel, proprietor of an East Suffolk small town bookshop, feels much the same. In a terse letter to her solicitor, she quotes the endpaper of her Everyman editions:

‘A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life,’ and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.

Surely Penelope Fitzgerald felt something like this, though she would have expressed it in plainer language. Don’t all novelists believe that books matter, that they’re different and necessary? When stocking her bookshop, Florence places those Everyman editions, in their ‘shabby dignity’, between Religion and Home Medicine, and isn’t this where literature belongs, somewhere between the spiritual and the earthly, the practical?

And yet what’s striking, in a novel called The Bookshop, is the absence of books, or specifically fiction and literature. The readers in the town of Hardborough have no interest in Ruskin or Keats or Austen, T. S. Eliot or Henry James. They crave books about royalty and the SAS, spotters’ guides, the score for the Messiah and greetings cards (an indication, I suppose, of how little the book trade changes) and Fitzgerald has great fun with the staggeringly banal titles: Build Your Own Racing Dinghy, I Flew With the Führer, Daily Life in Ancient Britain. Categorisation is not by subject, but by popularity: A, B and ‘the repellent Cs’, books that have acquired ‘a peculiar fragrance’, with titles like The History of Chinese Thought. A good book may well be the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, but for the bank manager they serve another purpose:

‘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.’

And what about literature, and specifically fiction? The only novel mentioned at length, Lolita, saves Florence’s business, but there is no discussion of its contents, its characters or themes or story. Mr Brundish’s appraisal is characteristically to the point:

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

That last sentence is a typical Fitzgerald notion, overturning the conventional, sentimental idea. Art, culture, literature seem to improve no one in Hardborough. The most ‘cultured’, ‘artistic’ people in this community are also the most monstrous. For the malign Mrs Gamart, an interest in ‘Culture’ brings social status and the illusion of sophistication. She will happily abandon compassion and decency to establish her precious arts centre, vital if the town is to compete socially with high-and-mighty Aldeburgh. Charming Milo works for the revered BBC, that bastion of liberal-humanistic values, yet he is lazy, vain and casually cruel. ‘His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether’, and what at first seems like gentleness is a cover for his appalling selfishness. Another typically incisive Fitzgerald observation:

Gentleness is not kindness. His fluid personality tested and stole into the weak places of others until it found it could settle down to its own advantage.

Even the hopeless watercolourist Theodore Gill (‘who saw no reason to abandon the pleasant style of the turn of the century’) is conceited, selfish and insensitive. Florence aside, the decent, loyal characters—Christine, Wally, Raven—are the least pretentious, indifferent to culture and the social status it brings. Christine prefers ‘stickers’ and bookmarks over books, and only reads Bunty:

Her resentment was directed against everyone who had to do with books, and reading, and made it a condition of success to write little compositions . . . She hated them all.

With the exception of Mr Brundish, whom Florence only meets once, it is also worth noting that her main allies belong to the working class and, in the case of the Gippings, almost an underclass; there are glancing references to incest, to children running wild, eating maggots, pelting each other with stones or beets.

Hardborough is not quite the real world. Isolated and enclosed, its parochial philistinism is exaggerated for comic effect. Phyllis Neame, the owner of the Southwold bookshop where Penelope Fitzgerald once worked, contested the portrayal of the town, insisting that everyone had been much nicer in real life. But this fictional town is stripped of quaintness. It is a harsh, class-bound place. There’s a startling passage where Christine’s mother discusses education, finding a sudden eloquence on the practical repercussions of Christine’s failure to pass the dreaded Eleven Plus:

‘It’s what we call a death sentence. I’ve nothing against the Technical, but it just means this: what chance will she ever have of meeting and marrying a white-collar chap? She won’t ever be able to look above a labouring chap or even an unemployed chap and believe me, Mrs Green, she’ll be pegging out her own washing until the day she dies.’

Contrast this with Milo North, going ‘through life with singularly little effort’. Florence and the Gippings are decent but powerless and yet one small remark from the vicious Mrs Gamart can have repercussions in the Houses of Parliament and ultimately destroy a livelihood. Intelligence has nothing to do with it; Christine is eccentric but also bright, shrewd, passionate and insightful, while Mrs Gamart’s nephew, the pliable MP who facilitates Florence’s downfall, is ‘brilliant, successful and stupid’. Like Florence, Christine fails because she can’t tell ‘which number comes next’. In one of the book’s most striking images, the difference between a white envelope, denoting acceptance by the grammar school, and a buff envelope, denoting the Technical, is the difference between success and drudgery. ‘Hardborough children, looking back in future years over a long life, would remember nothing more painful or more decisive than the envelopes waiting on the desks.’

Yet while class is everywhere in The Bookshop, money and social status are not the only dividing lines. The novel is political in the sense that Fitzgerald’s sympathies and instincts, like Florence’s, are liberal and broadly antiauthoritarian, but the real division in life, the one that matters, is that between the ‘exterminators and exterminatees, with the former, at any given moment, predominating’. This is a recurring theme in Fitzgerald’s books, particularly in those earlier novels drawn from episodes in her life, and it’s hard to think of a novelist who writes more compassionately and insightfully about failure. The Bookshop, which she called ‘her first straight novel’ after The Golden Child, gives the idea its clearest expression. Florence values kindness above everything. She is decent, principled, intelligent

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81 оценки / 73 Обзоры
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  • (4/5)
    My expectations were a bit Pym-ish. The Bookshop promised all sorts of apt visions, austerity, widows, spinsters, modernity, the Church. Well there were traces of such harbored within, but the bend bent elsewhere. I was actually reminded of Murdoch's Sandcastles, the provincials backbiting like crabs, human spirit crushed by petty jealousy. It was perfect day for this here: cats and dogs all day.
  • (4/5)
    A friend put me on to Penelope Fitzgerald a year or two ago, and I read and enjoyed her first novel The Golden Child (1977). It is a satire of life in a cultural institution, this one a museum in the King Tut boom of the 70’s. There was also a funny bumbling Cold War espionage angle. I’ve been picking up her other titles as I see them at Friends of the Library sales, but hadn’t read another until The Bookshop last week. A war widow in late 1950s England resolves to open a book store in the seaside village where she has lived for ten years. Let me try to illustrate how good it is by describing all the ways that the recent movie adaptation was awful. I think the movie was actually longer than the book—you can read the book in about two hours, and it flies. The movie is nine hours long, seemingly, and I only watched about 45 minutes of it.Fitzgerald is entirely clear-eyed, sharp, warm, and very funny. The movie, on the other hand, is ponderous, mawkish, self-important, humorless, and dull. The movie protagonist rhapsodizes about the magical significance of books and stores full of them, which is absent from the novel. In the novel she’s trying to be a businesswoman, and is totally unsentimental about books (as people in the book business actually tend to be). She doesn’t even seem to be particularly well-read. I gather from the preview that the big middle part of the movie which I skipped turned her into a moralizing crusader against censorship in opposition to the rural fuddy-duddies scandalized by Lolita. Penelope Fitzgerald, though, doesn’t moralize.The movie also ruins an interesting relationship by hinting at a totally implausible romance which is absent from the book. And the entire narration (by a grown version of a child character in the book) is a creation of the movie, is execrable, and would make Penelope Fitzgerald vomit in horror if she were alive to hear it. I skipped to the last few minutes of the movie to satisfy my morbid curiosity about what they would do to the ending and thereby stoke my burning hatred for everyone involved (except of course Bill Nighy, who has license from me to do whatever he wants at any time). I will give what little credit is due: They ruined the ending in a totally inexplicable, incomprehensible, and out-of-nowhere way, instead of ruining it in the way you expected. Avoid the movie with extreme prejudice.The book, on the other hand, is recommended.
  • (2/5)
    What on earth was the Booker committee thinking when they shortlisted this? More to the point, why do all these other 'community' reviewers think this is such a good book? These questions suggest that I am out of step with the rest of the world, which of course is true, but I think there is also some other factor at play. Many people describe this as humerous, but I'd be surprised if I smiled more than once in the hundred or so pages that I read before pulling the plug. Humour is, after all, a very personal thing. I wonder if the book is also somewhat dated now? I also felt as though none of the characters was treated with sufficient depth for my liking. I suspect I might have given it a higher rating if I had continued to the end, but I'm just too old to spend time on anything that isn't giving an adequate return for my investment (thanks for permission, Nancy Pearl).
  • (1/5)
    I finally abandoned this as too depressing midway through.
  • (3/5)
    This is a nice little story. Its amusing and very proper. However, the conclusion left me asking what the point?
  • (5/5)
    I would love to run a bookshop.By which I mean I would love to live in one, arranging the books just so, dipping in and out of my favourite tomes, discovering new authors and titles as part of my job - what bliss it all seems!But of course, the reality would be rather more challenging: balancing the books, drawing in the customers who who would rather buy online, managing staff and limited resources.At least I would hope to have the support and backing of my local community (although here I think sadly of Kathleen Kelly’s lovely Shop around the Corner in ‘You’ve Got Mail’), but in Penelope Fitzgerald’s quietly fatalistic novel, ‘The Book Shop’, community support is the vital ingredient new bookshop proprietor, Florence Green, lacks.=== The blurb: ===England. 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.Hardborough becomes a battleground. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and in doing so has crossed those who have made themselves important, such as the formidable Mrs Gamart, and even natural and supernatural forces, too.Her fate will strike a chord with anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.=== What’s it about? ===Spite. Small village politics. Exterminators and exterminees. Showing faith and hope in life spite of the gradual crushing nature of it.=== What’s it like? ===‘The Bookshop’ is a brief tale of life’s casual cruelty.Fitzgerald’s narrative is often gently humorous with an underlying viciousness and concludes with a deeply saddening ending.Held back and plotted against by useless solicitors, jealous neighbours and ambitious local politicians, Florence’s naivety is perhaps best illustrated by her simple belief that: ‘Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have.’Ah, bless you, Florence; if only life were that simple.=== Favourite lines: ===Mr Gill smiles ‘as a toad does, because it has no other expression’.(On Milo North) ‘His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether’.=== England. 1959. ===Fitzgerald evokes a world in which power resides firmly with the upper classes and culture means nothing more to her most obviously ‘cultured’ characters than a boost to their social status.More crucially, this is a cruel world which is indifferent towards human endeavour - when it is not actively malign. (Florence must battle a poltergeist as well as malcontents and decaying buildings).=== Final thoughts ===I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s prose and relished the moments when Florence insisted on the vital nature of books and reading. Florence’s downfall is perhaps inevitable, despite the hopes raised along the way, and I suspect Fitzgerald’s final words, and Florence’s final attitude, will stay with me for a very long time.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (2/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    You can tell this book was written by a poet. It’s also obvious that the writer couldn’t be from the US. This novel of the daily life in a conservative British town is as stifling as the conservative politics behind the motives of the town leaders and hangers on.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    This, I assumed, was to be a gentle story about a middle-aged, somewhat lonely, widow taking her life into her aging hands to establish a bookstore in the laid back village of Hardbourough, England. Let me tell you, it is much deeper and emotionally trying than I had expected!Florence Green, noted early on to be a woman with courage and endurance, has chosen to purchase the "Old House" which has been vacant for seven years and thought to be haunted. In it would be not only her home but Hardbourough's first and only book shop. The setting and atmosphere are perfect for a book shop story. Rather desolate area, marshy land and even rappers aka poltergeists round out the aura. A place where not much happened in 1959 and people seemed to be fine with that.As the reader learns about the village folk and their eccentricities so does Florence. Though they talk of change in their community, they choose to remain the same and no one expected Florence to be the one to bring it about . Some villagers are helpful from the start and remain so while others are conniving, jealous perhaps and haughty throughout, then there are those who surprise with their actions. It's a hard road, operating a book shop, and many hits and misses occur but courage and endurance have their limitations so what will become of Mrs. Greene? The conclusion is a bit depressing but one feels, come what may, Florence will survive.This was my first Penelope Fitzgerald and I look forward to read more, I have a feeling her other novels will also provide a little more than meets the eye.Edit More
  • (3/5)
    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!
  • (3/5)
    Florence Green lives in small English town and is recently widowed. Using her limited knowledge as an employee at a bookstore in her youth and a small sum of money she inherited, Florence decides, against the advice of several naysayers, to open a bookstore. The building is a major "fixer-upper" and is haunted by a rapping poltergeist, but Florence perseveres in following her desire to reinvent herself and her life.Despite some initial mishaps, and with the help of a precocious tween assistant, Penelope does make a go of things, and is even complemented by the venerable aristocrat who keeps himself aloof of village happenings. This final insult to the local self-named grand dame of the arts (and a suggestion of disapproval of her stocking the sensational novel, Lolita), Penelope is finally defeated. In the winter of 1960, therefore, having sent her heavy luggage on ahead, Florence Green took the bus into Flintmarket via Saxford Tye and Kingsgrave. Wally carried her suitcases to the bus stop. Once again the floods were out, and the fields stood all the way, on both sides of the road, under shining water. At Flintmarket she took the 10.46 to Liverpool Street. As the train drew out of the station she sat with her head bowed in shame, because the town in which she had lived for nearly ten years had not wanted a bookshop.This novel was particularly thought-provoking and sad for me, as I have just moved to a town without a bookstore. What makes a town not want a bookstore? Given the demise of the local, independent bookstores over the last dcade, it made me think about the people like Florence Green, who are put out of business, largely by Amazon. Is my purchasing from the behemoth to save a few dollars and have the convenience of delivery, so I don't need to go to a library or bookstore, worth the loss of culture bookstores bring to a place? It led me to wonder, what makes a country anti-intellectual, and am I contributing to that phenomenon?
  • (4/5)
    bookbox; set in a fictional english tiny economically depressed tiny town, Florence takes on renovating an old house into a bookstore and lending library. Some townfolk cheer her on, others trying to thwart the effort.
  • (5/5)
    Rating: 5* of fiveThe Publisher Says: In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop - the only bookshop - in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors' lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence's warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn't always a town that wants one. My Review: Florence Green is my current idol of Resistance. She has lived quietly and unassumingly in Hardborough, a small East Anglian seaside town, and realized that her life was simply passing and not being lived. So she took her small inheritance and opened a bookshop.A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.Of course, she takes out a loan against the freehold of her premises to start the business. The sums are risible by today's standards, since this is 1959, but they seem enormous to Mrs Green. She sets out to stock her business with the remainder stock of her former employers in London, then contacts publishers' sales agents to visit and display their wares:Those who made it {to her shop} were somewhat unwilling to part with...what Florence really wanted, unless she would also take a pile of novels which had the air, in their slightly worn jackets, of women on whom no one had ever made any demand.This being 1959, a certain degree of wincing at this self-deprecating, or merely invisibly sexist, humor is to be granted; but Fitzgerald wrote the novel in 1977 or thereabouts, as it was first published in 1978. Was this mildly misogynistic sally meant to be read with a raised eyebrow, or was she simply oblivious to its sexism? I don't know, but I'm guessing it wasn't ironic based on the tone of the tale. It's very funny either way.Life as a business proprietor is not stress-free. Mrs Green is a busy, busy woman. Many are the factors she is required to balance in her running of the business. Yet summer comes but once a year, and after all what good is living in a seaside village if the sea is invisible?She ought to go down to the beach. It was Thursday, early closing, and it seemed ungrateful to live so close to the sea and never look at it for weeks on end.It's always seemed odd to me how many people I know here in my own seaside city who simply don't pay the slightest attention to the ocean that surrounds us!Mrs Green has failed to do one crucial thing in opening her shop: Get the town's Great and Good on side. In fact, when she is invited to the local county set's meeting place, she receives a very simple and direct order to cease and desist her plans to open her shop in the Old House, which it transpires the local grande dame wishes to put to another use. To everyone's blank surprise, she does not back down. The invisible battle lines are drawn: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.The battles go in Mrs Green's favor...until they quite memorably do not. The quality do not like being told no.But the battles are waged fully! Mrs Green is not one to lie down and say die!Courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.The tests are, in the end, simply more than Mrs Green has the resources to withstand. The state gets involved. The lawyers and the banks are not on her side. The town isn't willing to pull themselves out of the primordial muck of How Things Are Done to rally to her aid.It was defeat, but defeat is less unwelcome when you are tired.And yet Florence Green stood tall until the last moment, only leaving Hardborough when her very last farthing is needed to buy her way out of the morass that her impertinent refusal to bow before the quality has landed her in.For that reason, I recommend this book for your 45-hating, Resistance fighting, Yule giftee. It will give them a rock to stand on.
  • (5/5)
    When I finished this quiet, unassuming book, I was so simultaneously delighted and drained that I felt the urge to go and lie down on the floor, sadly smiling. Fitzgerald possesses the lightest touch; her wit gleams less like a diamond than a knife in the shadows.
  • (4/5)
    Mrs. Green is the little engine that could, but can she defy the odds? There are many interesting characters and humorous episodes and interchanges.
  • (4/5)
    This is a sad story. Florence Green opened a bookstore in the faith of her village and her a favour to do. Unfortunately this was not the case. From the first moment on, they were just putting stones in the way. She was exploited and departed. She only got support from Mr. Bundish, but in the end this did not help either. She had to admit defeat and leave.I like how Fitzgerald can draw such a strong picture in a few words.
  • (3/5)
    Best per many, not per me. Woman owns haunted bookshop. Applause for the business/village parts; Boo-hiss for the haunted part.
  • (4/5)
    I wanted to love it, I really did, but the ending left me disappointed and empty. I could have given it three stars, except the rest of the story was moving and gripping. But...so much was left unsaid. The ghosts in the house? Who & why? Family? It was a wonderful story, and it had so much more to give, but it glossed over a lot.
    I read it because it fits into my reading goal of reading all books about bookstores & booksellers. But although I gave it 4 stars, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Sorry. I loved it but wanted more.
  • (4/5)
    Fitzgerald is able to create a detailed backdrop in character and setting for a story about a woman determined to open a bookstore in a small coastal English village. For anyone who has grown up in a small community, you can almost see the ending coming, as she alienates locals and is finally forced to give up her dream.
  • (3/5)
    I'm sure this happens in real life, and you don't exactly expect a fairy tale ending from Mrs. Fitzgerald, but in this story all the bad guys win. Not overtly and not via evil doings, but mostly by way of their stars aligned and none did for the good guys. It was disheartening. What a bloody bummer.
  • (4/5)
    Everything you could wish to know about small town England is contained in these pages. The book is short because each sentence holds so much. If you don't like short books, I recommend reading this one slowly. The story is about a woman who opens a bookshop, but really it could have been about any other seemingly insignificant event. The beauty of this story is in how casually and deftly the author dishes up biting satire. So mannered, so polite. "My dear, no, of course I didn't mean it that way. So very sorry. More tea?" My cup of tea, anyway. A true pleasure.
  • (4/5)
    Great until the ending, which I though came off a bit rushed.
  • (4/5)
    Enjoyable account of woman's late attempt to open a bookstore in a rural English village. Many details are included that in lesser hands would become obvious plot devices. Not so here; the embellishments serve to flesh out contours of life. Not everything in our own experiences tie into a broader them, but they nonetheless add some dimensionality to our self-perceptions. So it is here. The ending was unsatisfying not because it was lightly plotted, but because we wish the central character had had a moment of vindication for her virtues. As it was, she mistakenly believes that one of her main supporters had abandoned her at the end, and of course the lawyers do her no good at all. But again, that's real life.
  • (4/5)
    The bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald describes and experience and sentiment of xenophobia and narrowmindedness, which is now hard to recognize. The short novel, or novella, is based on the author's own experience of setting up a bookshop in the English countryside in the late 1950s.In the novel, Florence Green, whose name suggests innocence and inexperience, moves from London to set up a bookstore in a small town in the English countryside. She is happy to find that even in such a rural community, there is apparently room for a successful bookstore, that more people than expected have an interest in reading, and that particularly the more aristocratic part of the community would be the most liberal-minded. However, Florence may have been a little too optimistic about introducing the fresh, new wind from London. While there is an apparent massive interest in her attempt to introduce Nabokov's Lolita to her readership, this also marks the turning point in her success.From the start Florence had met with opposition against her enterprise, notably from the locally most influential Mrs Gamart. She tried to thwart Florence's plans, by claiming to have had plans of starting a cultural centre in the building Florence purchases for the bookstore, a derelict building, shunned by the local community for fear of it being haunted.However, what really haunts the villagers is an innate xenophobia, and aversion of strangers or new-comers, with their new ideas from the big city. Following the initially enthusiastic reception of Lolita, the community turns against Florence, who is seen to subvert or exploit Christine, the 10-year old girl who helps her in the bookshop. As her patrons turn away from her, Florence finds herself cornered as the community seems to conspire against her, leading to her demise.Written in the late 1970s, describing a particular sentiment borne out in the 1950s, the theme of The Bookshop may be a little difficult for contemporary readers to understand.
  • (4/5)
    There's not much wrong with this one: perfect prose, eccentric cast and a chilling tale of seaside philistinism, arrivistism and backstabbery. It's also odd in an Australian film kind of way- funny and lighthearted the whole way through until the crushing ending. Yep. Almost everyone sucks.
  • (4/5)
    I purchased several of Penelope Fitzgerald's novels (or novella, as the case seems for "The Book Shop") at a used book sale, and this is the first one I read.Florence Green decides to settle down in a small English seaside town and open a book shop. Without giving the plot away, let's say that she has challenges every step of the way.While this is a well-written book, I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it because of the mostly unlikeable characters -- the only one I liked was Florence Green. It was too much of a reminder to me of how, sometimes no matter how much one tries, some places (and the people living there) just aren't a good fit.
  • (4/5)
    Penelope Fitzgerald is one of those writers who is perversely famous for having been overlooked for most of her career, until she won a major prize late in life and everyone started saying how good her early works were. This is one of those early works, her second, from 1978, a charming little story about a widow who opens a bookshop in a small coastal town in Suffolk in the late 1950s (it sounds to be loosely based on Southwold), and unintentionally finds herself in conflict with the local Lucia, Mrs Gamas. Under the veneer of provincial social comedy there's a potent, but very understated, layer of mockery of English philistinism, but it's also about another very English quirk, the pleasure of fighting losing battles. Definitely worth a look.
  • (3/5)
    Our book club discussion helped me appreciate it more, but I still don't really like the book. Perhaps the "humor" is just too British for me. It deals with courage in the face of small-mindedness. Maybe I can't appreciate a story without the "romantic" ending (romantic in the sense that "everything turns out well").