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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