Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

'I shall miss you, Christine, and I wanted to ask you what you'd like for a present.'
   '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.


  1. Those Penelopes tend to get mixed up in my mind, too! I listened to The Bookshop about a year ago and still recall Christine Gipping... quite a young lady.

  2. Wow I recently read this book in 2009 and I have already forgotten almost everything about it. Not sure if this means I read it too quickly or Fitzgerald just didn't leave a lasting impression:(

  3. Thank you for the review on an author unknown to me. This sounds so good.

  4. Stacy - I don't think it's you. I never even reviewed the book because I couldn't think of anything to say just a couple of days later... except that Christine was memorable.

  5. Glad to read I'm not the only one who confuses the two Penelopes. I absolutely love P. Lively and keep thinking I should try P. Fitzgerald.

  6. JoAnn, She had the makings to fill a book of her own!

    Stacy, Oh well, that's the way it goes sometimes. The best in this one comes out if it's read slowly so perhaps speed was an issue.

    Mystica, There you go and you're welcome!

    Joan, It would seem that I'm in good company then!

  7. Such a delightful read. You could also add in Penelope Mortimer - she is another good Penelope!

  8. I was going to say what Verity said! I've not read anything by Mortimer or Lively, and thus they blend in my head...

    But I have read, and loved, The Bookshop. Such a sad book, but beautifully written - and Christine was the sullen ray of light through it!

  9. verity, I have heard of her but know nothing about her work or era...off to do some research!

    StuckInABook, 'the sullen ray of light...', I like that, Simon.

  10. This sounds very good. Naomi keeps telling me to read Penelope Fitzgerald and one of these days I will. Christine sounds like a girl with some gumption!

  11. bookssnob, Fitzgerald comes highly recommended then! And I would have loved a sequel where Christine rules the village...and she could have!

  12. Ooh, Penelope Mortimer is good, I read a book by her last year and will be reading the Persephone Daddy's Gone a Hunting when my library gets it in (I've been doing a little book requesting lately...if I can't buy books, why not the library...then everyone can enjoy them!). And I'm going to start reading The Bookshop this weekend--I've not read Penelope Lively or Fitzgerald yet either.

  13. I enjoyed this very much. I read it years ago & was left feeling so sad that I wasn't sure I wanted to reread it but I'm glad I did. I found a lot more black humour in it this time & Christine was wonderful.

  14. Just finished this...loved it! And I'm pretty sure I bought this book (years ago) thinking it was Penelope Lively's newest! I'm glad I found another new author to read instead!