Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
'Not one of those books. Not the kind that you have.'
'Well then, what? I'm going into Flintmarket tomorrow. What about a cardigan?'
'I'd rather have the money.' Christine was implacable.
It would seem that lately my enjoyment from characters has come from insolent children. First, Dora and Isobel in Blaming and now ten year-old, Christine Gipping.
When Cornflower recently announced The Bookshop as her book for January I dove right in. Most importantly because I have never read anything by Penelope Fitzgerald and honestly, I keep mixing up her up with the other Penelope...as in Lively. It was a chance to set things straight.
Things were against poor Florence Green from the beginning. Wanting to open a bookshop in the abandoned 'Old House' should have been an eagerly anticipated event in Hardborough but such was not the case. Violet Gamart had other plans for the building in the form of an arts centre and many villagers had an opinion either way.
Usually, the very idea of living in a village fills me with delight but Fitzgerald paints a slightly off-putting picture. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows your business! Florence presses ahead with the bookshop and opens to a lukewarm reception. Wondering what villagers would think of the book, Lolita, she writes a letter to the reclusive, Mr Brundish, a long-time resident, to ask for his review and opinion. '...Some critics say that it is pretentious, dull, florid and repulsive; others call it a masterpiece.'
The introduction of delightfully precocious, Christine, lit up the storyline for me. I couldn't wait to see just what sort of quip Fitzgerald would have her deliver next. This young lady's quick wit and no-nonsense attitude more than made up for her waif-like appearance and almost transparent skin. When Florence seeks her out to inquire about her helping out at the bookshop she asks...'What about your other sister?'
'She likes to stay at home and mind Margaret and Peter - that's the little ones. That was a waste giving them those names, it never came to anything between him and the Princess.' Lines like that make me laugh and have me admiring the author who surely has a great sense of humour.
At just over one hundred pages The Bookshop is a quick read and is also very reminiscent of a Persephone-type story if you are a fan. My copy from the library is an edition from Everyman's Library and also contains The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower which I've read is another fine story. My reading has taken me on to another book but I'll be back.