The Bookshop (1978)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Bookshop packs a lot into a short novel. Penelope Fitzgerald tells the story of a middle-aged widow in a small, isolated Suffolk town who decides it’s nearly a duty for her to start the community’s first bookshop in more than a century.

What Florence Green, the protagonist, doesn’t calculate is whether the community wants a bookshop — or wants it enough to oppose the powerful Mrs. Gamart, who pinpoints the building for her pet project, an arts center.

The Bookshop is a tale about pettiness and parochialism. Florence’s only allies are an old man who is already an enemy of Mrs. Gamart’s and a few children, especially the 10-year-old who assists her in the shop. It has Fitzgerald’s ironic humor and well-drawn characterizations — the kind-hearted Florence, her spunky assistant Christine, her reclusive ally Mr. Brundish, the malevolent Mrs. Gamart, and a host of small-minded people.

Fitzgerald’s good people typically don’t win at the end, but Florence emerges with her dignity intact.

The Bookshop was short-listed for the Booker Prize.


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