Title: The Bookshop
Writer: Penelope Fitzgerald
Publishing House: HarperCollins
Date of Publication: January 30th 2014 (first published 1978)
Rating: 5 stars
”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. ”
Sometimes you have to fight against ignorance, prejudice and all kinds of malicious gossiping. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to go against the flow and make your mark in an ignorant community that blindly follows the way of the ‘’ money’’ and becomes hostile to the one who wishes to break the mold. Sometimes you have to fight against pretentiousness and dishonesty, you have to justify your choices because you dared to make a choice. You have to battle with people and ghosts. You have to stand your ground because you are an independent woman. No matter whether you find yourself as the winner or not, you have earned the right to walk proudly, in dignity and wisdom. This is the world of Florence Green in this beautiful, bittersweet novel by Penelope Fitzgerald.
1959, Hardborough, East Anglia. Florence decides to transform the legendary Old House into a bookshop. ‘’Α bookshop?’’, the residents wonder, ‘’who needs a bookshop, anyway?’’ Apart from the narrow minds of an uneducated, stubborn society, Florence has to fight against the petty ambitions and plans of the local elite, a woman who would put the Devil to shame. Perhaps, Nabokov’s Lolita can come to the rescue of Florence. Perhaps not. How can one prevail against such ruthless, vulgar people locked up in a world that has died decades ago?
‘’Outside it was a clear night and she could see across the marshes to the Laze, marked by the riding lights of the fishing boats, waiting for the low tide. But it was cold, and the air stung her face.’’
Fitzgerald’s prose is sharp, magical and elegant. I have difficulty in describing it but it seemed to me like a beautiful, misty English morning in the countryside. Magical writing when she describes the town during the blue hour. Sharp when she brings the ruthless, misogynist community into focus. Elegant when Florence takes over, when her thoughts and her dignified personality stands against the elite of a village that tries to smother anything that is new and progressive.
Penelope Fitzgerald makes use of the novel that shocked the world when it comes out. Nabokov’s Lolita is still dividing the reading audience although I fail to understand why. I suppose we are educated, progressive and open-minded people but I may be wrong, who knows? She inserts a brilliant semi-subplot with the ‘’rapper’’, a poltergeist that has a mind of its own and lends an aura of mystery in the story. I’d say that mystery is a continuous feature in the novel as we find out very little about Florence’s past or the background of the characters. And I loved the fact that we don’t get any answers. The writer guides us into cold autumn (with a beautiful description of Guy Fawkes’ Night) and an even colder winter and drives her story to a realistic closure that demonstrates the results of the fight between evil ambition and an unwavering, resilient spirit.
(Emily Mortimer as Florence in the 2018 film)
‘’She had a kind heart, though that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.’’
Florence is a wonderful character. Wise and determined, down-to-earth (perhaps a bit too much…) and brave. She swims against the current for independence and change, an idealist in the den of illiterate wolves. With the exception of Mr. Brundish and Mrs. Gripping, the rest of the cast is pretty much horrible. Perfectly drawn characters but despicable to the core. Even the little girl, Christine, is a downright, ungrateful fiend. Plain and simple.
The Bookshop has become one of the newly-discovered classic and rightfully so. In our troubled and troubling age, we are in urgent need of stories that may light the way in the darkness the ones in power have created…Personally, I can’t wait to discover Fitzgerald’s work in its entirety.
‘’They won’t understand it, but that is all to the best. Understanding makes the mind lazy.’’