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The Bookshop

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National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop is "a marvelously piercing fiction" ( Times Literary Supplement ), short-listed for the Booker Prize.

With an Introduction by David Nicholls, international best-selling author of One Day.

In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop—the only bookshop—in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted.

Only too late does she begin to suspect the a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.

Basis for the major motion picture starring Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, and Patricia Clarkson.

123 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1978

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About the author

Penelope Fitzgerald

43 books647 followers
Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "the ten best historical novels".

Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels. Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize. A further three novels — The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels — also made the shortlist.

She was educated at Wycombe Abbey and Somerville College, Oxford university, from which she graduated in 1938 with a congratulatory First.

She was the granddaughter of Edward Lee Hicks

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Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,123 followers
September 15, 2018
The melancholy of defeat

She did not know that morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct.

As gentleness is not (necessarily) kindness, courage, hard work and virtue is not invariably rewarded, I learned as a child listening to George Brassens’s song about the poor brave little white horse that never saw spring. Life is no bed of roses for the middle-aged widow Florence Green. When she decides to open a bookshop in the dozy coastal Suffolk town of Hardborough (Southwold), she will have to find out that a kind heart is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation. By purchasing the dilapidated, clammy ‘Old House’ for her bookshop, she almost parenthetically thwarts the plans of the local ‘first lady’ and patroness of all public activities in the town, Violet Gamart, who actually envisages the Old House not as a bookshop but as an art and music centre, worthy of competing with mighty Aldeburgh.


Notwithstanding her innocuous kindness, in her optimist denial and determination, Florence refuses to give in to the lady’s wishes, and gossip, class and money issues, political and legal machinations and a poltergeist will sweep the small community in the battle of local loyalties, independency of spirit and authority.

She blinded herself, in short, by pretending for a while that human beings are not divided into exterminators and exterminates, with the former, at any given moment, predominating. Will-power is useless without a sense of direction. Hers was at such a low ebb that it no longer gave her the instructions for survival.


Delightfully perceptive and witty, her prose parsed with gemlike bouts of irony and understatement, Fitzgerald deftly portrays the quirky characters populating this subtle tragicomedy, from the somewhat clumsy, quixotic, lonely outsider Florence to the crisis marking later middle age for the upper middle-class in East-Suffolk, ‘after which the majority became watercolourists, and painted landscapes’, the spiteful and scheming Violet and Florence’s bright and feisty shop assistant, the ten year old Christine Gipping. Particularly colourful and striking is Fitzgerald’s farcical depiction of the representatives of the legal profession, preposterous and not of any use to Florence (‘The solicitor explained that rights were in no way affected by the impossibility of putting them into practice’). Sketching slightly surreal, absurdist rules, she inventively illustrates how the law is ruthlessly turned into a cunning weapon, tailor-made by and for the ones in power to get their ways, incorporating raw institutional injustice. How words are able to destroy words, and lives.

Much is left unsaid and left to the reader to imagine. Human nature, Fitzgerald seems to tell us, is cruel, and if not intentionally causing harm out of malevolence, such often happens out of stupidity, conceit, selfishness.

A brilliantly dark and spiky tale that touched me to the core and a marvellous first acquaintance with a fascinating author I will definitely read more of and about (I enjoyed reading the insightful essay of Julian Barnes in Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story on what he calls her ‘deceptiveness’ as a writer a lot).
Profile Image for Adina .
890 reviews3,541 followers
March 16, 2023
Audiobook beautifully narrated by Eva Karpf

The Bookshop is a slim novel about an idealistic woman who is forced to battle small town politics. Florence Green, a courageous and kind widow, decides to open the first bookshop in the little town she lives in. She buys an abandoned house which she converts in a bookshop and her living quarters. The place is damp and supposedly haunted, but the tenacious woman manages to do quite well at the beginning. However, not everybody is happy about her success and a conflict will jeopardize everything she's worked for.

It is a quiet, elegant and subtle novel]. It manages to be poignant and to show the best and worse about human nature without shouting. I was charmed by the beautiful and complex writing, about the way the author succeeded to create complex characters in a few pages. It was my first book by Penelope Fitzgerald but I already feel like an established admirer of her work. I cannot wait to read more, it was a real pleasure to discover her writing.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,839 followers
February 2, 2023
They’re saying that you’re about to open a bookshop. That shows you’re ready to chance some unlikely things.

An idyllic little bookshop stuffed with old hardbacks displayed on handcrafted shelves in an aging building--possibly haunted--on a crisp ocean coastline seems to be a common denominator in many bibliophile fantasies. A love of literature often leads to a desire to spread said literature into desiring hands and much is the dream of Florence Green in Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel The Bookshop. However, a dream is often deferred when it does not align with the desires of the ruling elites and we live in a world where innocence may be glorified yet gored in actuality. So goes Fitzgerald’s outstanding little novel that spits in the face of capitalist society while acknowledging cruel realities. This is a world where gentleness does not equate kindness and ‘Morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct.’ On the surface it would seem a cozy novel of small town England but there is a mordant melancholy at play observing the way the privileged can trample anyone underfoot if they so desire. Yet, within this slender volume there is a tragic ode to the working-class heroines, the dreamers and those with the courage to grasp their dreams. It also hits a fantastic chord of my own existence that harmonized deep within me. It also has a bold and bittersweet ending that I absolutely loved and wished more authors were daring enough to pull off. Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is an utterly charming and devastating microcosm of society that casts its keen, observational wit on class privileges and their social and political weaponry, the varying fates of those who interact with the social ladder, and the harsh truths of reaching for a dream in a world primed to grind up dreamers in its gears.

A good book is the precious life-blood 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.

There is such an impressive breadth of scope in this tightly packed little novel. This is largely due to the way Fitzgeralds’s prose is masterfully both economical and hearty at once with such a delicately incisive gaze as to pack her message so tightly and powerfully that every sentence hums with brilliance and insight. It was nominated for the Booker Prize, and rightfully so, though she would not win it until the following year with Offshore. Still, Fitzgerald manages to do in around 150pgs what most do in double the space, crafting a beautifully engrossing surface-read with a stunning depth to be mined in subtle turns of phrase and clever nods that truly embody the meaning of ‘show not tell’. She also makes great use of an objective authorial perspective where many truths and impressions are not apparent until they are reframed through the disheartening disclosures at it’s calamitous conclusion. In short, this is a minor masterpiece and I will never stop thinking about it.

This novel particularly resonated with me as Florence Green’s bookshop also features a lending library which strikes a perfect intersectional bullseye into my own life working in a small, independent bookstore as well as serving in the local library as an aide (huge shoutout to actual librarians, you all are the best [especially you, Annaka, thanks for actually reading these]). The two are very similar but not without dissonance that I sashay through on a daily basis as I often walk from one job directly to the next several days a week (I do the social media for the bookstore, @readersworldholland as well as serve on the social media committee for the library which only compounds the trip down the rabbit hole of dissonance between parallels for me). Basically my entire life is books, and I am happy for it. So when Florence’s lending library faces issues of privacy when unruly patrons begin rummaging through other people’s holds, believe you me I was on the edge of my seat ready to rumble about best practices and the importance of maintaining patron privacy (I was particularly thrilled when the young bookshop employee, Christine--whom my heart goes out to like fireworks over a scenic bay--raps a patron over the knuckles with a ruler for snooping).

There is also the constant barrage of customer questions and complaints that downright tickled me and rang true. For instance, a certain Mr. Thornton is the first on the lending list, but rumored to be a slow reader much to the indignation of waiting patrons who are quick to make their annoyances heard and also the outlandish clamoring for privileged rights to jump line in the holds list that, as a library employee who works specifically with inter-library loan holds and registration, had me in stitches. Not to mention the awkwardness of bookstore life with local authors and artisans insisting on their place amongst your stock or the weird complaints and reasons for returning books. ‘Sometimes the customers don’t like the books when they’ve bought them,’ Florence says, which reminded me of a time when I worked for Barnes and Noble and a customer returned a boxed set of the Percy Jackson series because--and you can’t make this stuff up--it didn’t come with a disclaimed that the Greek god’s were not real, which she said would make her son stop believing in a Christian God (she also told my manager I shouldn’t be working there if this was what I recommended for children—welcome to Holland, Michigan, USA folks!). So thank you, Fitzgerald, this book made me feel seen in my work-life and I love you for it.

But enough about me--my sincerest apologies--and on to the novel. Fitzgerald has created a working-class heroine/martyr with Florence Green, a sort of David vs Goliath of aging dreamer vs the systemic wealthy society in a small English village. Hardborough is ‘an island between sea and river, muttering and drawing into itself as soon as it felt the cold’ where books apparently hadn’t been sold ‘since Dombey and Son was serialized’ (the nod to Charles Dickens’s book also reveals the origin of the character name Florence, who appears as the daughter of Dombey in the work). There is all the small town nostalgia to go around in this deteriorating town, but it also serves as a astute microcosm of English society where the wealthy have ancestry claims, audiences with the House of Lords and other nefarious connections that help them retain their power and do whatever they wish, such as Violet Gamart who serves as a villain of sorts in her quest to banish Florence from the Old House where she has rightfully moved into as workplace and residence. Florence’s opening of the bookshop stirs Mrs Gamart to think the place could have been used as an Arts center, and instead of simply regretting not acting on it during its decade of desolation decides to slowly but surely unseat Florence and claim the space for her own.

Florence, on the other hand, is an unassuming middle-aged woman with a dream and enough money to make it happen as long as the bank is willing to provide a loan. Having been widowed during the War (Fitzgerald frequently takes a sardonic approach to the British military, even boldly approaching outright mockery through the representation of General Gamart as a bumbling fool only fit to follow orders) she now hopes to make her mark on the world with a meager bookstore, since ‘to leave a mark of any kind was exhilarating’.
She was in appearance small, wispy and wiry, somewhat insignificant from the front view, and totally so from the back. She was not much talked about, not even in Hardborough, where everyone could be seen coming over the wide distances and everything seen was discussed.

Florence is a portrait of innocence in this world and a figurehead for the passed-over, something that does not fare well with the machinations of society. But innocence begets innocence, and her supporters include the Sea Scounts--a club of young boys that help her clear her space and set up the store--and the utterly delightful 10 year old Christine Gipping who is the sole bookshop employee for most of the novel. I was charmed by this detail as my own 10 year old daughter enjoys spending an evening a week with me in the bookstore, pouring through novels in the corner and learning how to close down the shop (I also read this novel in its entirety while in the store, which I felt fitting).

Many are quick to call Florence courageous--most notably the mysterious and wealthy Mr Brundish who is not only a foil to Mrs Gamart but also goes to great lengths to defend and support Florence’s enterprise--however ‘her courage, after all, was only a determination to survive.’ Survival is the utmost importance in a world with cruelties such as Mrs Gamart abound, one Florence is beautifully yet naively ignorant of as it is said she has not understood that the world is split between ‘exterminators and exterminatees.’ This is also a patriarchal society, where men of self-appointed impotent importance say things such as ‘but silence means consent’ to get their way, and her abilities are shortchanged simply due to being a woman.

All the more insidious are fellows such as Milo North, who outwardly seem kind and supportive but inwardly are only looking out for themselves. Milo is said to work for the BBC in London (less and less, it would seem) which has fixed him in his smaller pond of a town as seemingly a patron of the arts and someone to be admired. Milo is a social ladder climber, though a lazy one at that, and demonstrates how simply adhering only to self-preservation and choosing the path of least resistance is a more profitable journey than someone who actually works hard for a living. Milo schemes and betrays like a proper Judas, but to his credit warns Florence the whole way that her trust in others may be her undoing. The climbers are rewarded regardless of morality and work ethic, which the dreamers find a wall of systemic gatekeeping blocking their path.

Amusingly, the least worrisome of characters around town is the poltergeist that haunts the Old House. This inclusion is wonderfully charming as it is just an established fact that a ghost—dubbed ‘the rapper’ for their frequent and prolonged pounding sounds—exists and while they make themselves known from time to time it is hardly an intrusion. The true terrors of Hardborough are not a specter in the night but the daylight beasts of privilege and their conviction of deservedness to it.

Fitzgerald pulls no punches in this one, yet the working-class martyrdom is still upheld as the righteous path. Florence comments that customers will return books if ‘they’ve detected a distinct tinge of socialism.’ which offers a glimpse into the political leanings of the novel and perhaps reframes the embarrassment Florence has of wearing a red dress (red scare, folks) to the social gathering of ancestral elites at Mrs Gamart’s impressive home. Florence is not in this for the profit, and when asked by her exasperated bookkeeper if she even cares to understand how profit systems works ‘she guiltily wished she did.’ There is a purity here that wishes to transcend its capitalist society, but Fitzgerald has no interest in sugarcoasting rebellion.

Mrs Gamart has connections, which Brundish warns Florence though she foolishly claims to not be intimidated by it, and the goodwill of innocence will find no quarter in a world of bankers and politicians. Mrs Gamart not only can lodge a barrage of legal complaints, inspectors and even meddling with school records or Christine, to antagonize Florence, most of which come to nothing in the short term but amalgamate to a damning record in the long run. However, she has connections to law-makers who can sneakily ram Bills through such as one giving legal custody of the Old House if she so chooses. ‘I’m talking about an order for compulsory purchase,’ Brundish accuses her, ‘you may call it an eviction. That is a fairer term.’ The sharp criticism of elites and their unbridled power leaps from the pages.

There's something sublte but effective in the way that Gamart's attempt to open an Art Centre comes as a Public Library is also being opened in town. A library would have training for collection development and programming, whereas Ms Gamart's--a traditional value wealthy elite with the weight of government behind her--would be strictly her control over what she feels the community should and should not have as art.

It was defeat, but defeat is less unwelcome when you are tired.

While the ending may leave a bitter taste in some mouths--I dare say it is intended to--I personally loved it and wish for more books to have the courage to do so. Failure is a theme I really respect, even if it recalls walking across my university campus one last time at the age of 20, listening to Dylan's One Too Many Mornings stifling tears with a cigarette swallowing that I had just been dismissed and failed out of our Literature program. It’s how life is, and rosy endings make for a docile society that thinks mere courage, morality and being ‘the good side’ can defeat a system hellbent on retaining power and decimating any opposition which it has endless and vast means to mobilize in order to do so. This gives you the teeth you need, and the true courage to stand tall even in the face of defeat.

This is a bloodless yet nonetheless tragic martyr story meant to radicalize you to stand up for the dreamers and underdogs who want to believe morality and good-naturedness can be enough to succeed. Fitzgerald is watering the garden and here we are nearly 40 years later still needing her message because failure is not the end all and should not deter us, only embolden us to continue on the scaffolding of the fallen. Innocence may falter and is likely a kiss of death, which is tragic but only if we allow it to be. This is such a lovely ode to literature as well, and Lolita and its subversive powers figures prominently in the plot. Often for hilarious purposes. I love this book, plain and simple. It is brief but powerful and so eloquently written, and Fitzgerald has crafted a minor masterpiece.


Courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,179 followers
January 2, 2019

There is strength and beauty in the margins, where we easily, maybe deliberately, fail to look.

While I was reading this, I came across an archaic Shetland fishermen’s taboo word, sjusamillabakka, for the shifting, liminal space betwixt land and sea.

Sjusamillabakka is perfect for this book:
• Geographically: set in a small, remote coastal town, on an island between sea and river.
• Connectedly: every fifty years or so “it had lost, as though careless or indifferent to such things, another means of communication” (river navigability, bridge, railway, and tidal wall).
• Chronologically: between the starchy 50s and the swinging 60s.
• Socially: a town with clear class boundaries - except for Florence. Like a governess, a bookseller is too educated to be lower class, but payment means she’s NQOTD (Not Quite Our Type, Dear).
• Supernaturally: the ebb and flow of rappers (poltergeists, not Eminem or Jay Z!), mirrors Florence’s situation. But this is not a ghost story. They’re an occasional metaphor.

A heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel… The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape... The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.

Don’t judge

“‘Are you talking about culture?’ the [bank] manager said, in a voice half way between pity and respect.

Few want to admit to class-based snobbery, but is cultural or literary snobbery any different?

I was reading this in a small amphitheatre. The acoustics mean that you sometimes catch snippets of conversations quite far away. Two men in their early 20s, roughly dressed and rougher spoken, were chatting. I was trying to focus on this novel, but I learned that both had been in prison, one was a recovering alcoholic, and the other had mental health issues. Fights, drugs, and gangs were mentioned. And gaming. I pictured a shoot-em-up. But no, Lord of the Rings. They went on to compare the games with the films - and the book. At that point, I couldn’t read mine: their passion for books, not just LotR, could not be ignored. Should not be ignored. I silently bowed my head in shame.

Redemption is possible. LotR is about doggedly keeping going, clinging to hope however slippery it is, rather than surrendering to the deceptively welcoming arms of despair. Books can be a pathway through that valley of shadows, to a brighter future beyond.


Florence has faith in the power of books to improve individuals and the community, but less faith in herself. She’s stoical and sometimes assertive. But she’s usually reactive, rather than proactive; she’s not a natural businesswoman. And she doesn’t trust her own judgement of literary merit, so we never learn much about her own tastes.

Books matter, but this is at least as much a portrait of a community. People judge and are judged by who reads what. The books themselves play along: when new stock arrives, they “fell into their own social hierarchy”, the cheap paperbacks being “brightly democratic” and in “well-disciplined ranks”.

Few titles are mentioned, with a major exception, Lolita (see my review HERE).
It’s a good book and therefore you should try to sell it… They won’t understand it, but that is all to the good. Understanding makes the mind lazy.
That’s back to snobbery.

Don’t read this for plot

In many ways, nothing much Happens, and what does, is mostly offstage, and sometimes of uncertain agency to those affected. But it’s not frustrating or incomplete.

In a small coastal village in Suffolk, a childless, middle-aged, lower middle class widow decides to open a bookshop. She’s a relative newcomer (having lived there for less than ten years), and although 1959 was the cusp of great social and economic change, Hardborough lags (no fish and chip shop, no launderette, and cinema only two Saturdays per month). More significantly, not everyone is keen on her converting the Old House into a bookshop, and some actively want to stop her. That’s it. And not. Small town political machinations. Even selling the scandalous Lolita is a bit of a damp squib.

Maybe don’t read it for the ending

Understated, unexpected, and gut-wrenching. Utterly plausible, though.

But DO read it

A good book is the precious life-blood 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.

There's more depth, strength, and occasional waspishness than appears at first glance - in the book and in Florence herself, even though she’s not really the driving force.

And when you’ve read and loved this, pick up Offshore (see my review HERE). Like this, it draws on elements of Fitzgerald’s own life, and is set in another self-contained community of people who are not quite sailors, nor landlubbers. The tone and appeal of the two are very similar.

Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have.

Although it seems effortlessly natural, I assume Fitzgerald gave everything she had. She certainly succeeded in creating a fascinating and believable community I care about.

Real characters

My mother still lives in the village where I grew up: a somewhat insular community, with its own strict, but unwritten hierarchy, where everyone knows about everyone else, and power is held by venerable families and institutions. Although this is set before I was born, I recognise most of the characters: affectionate portraits that never quite descend to caricature. There is true precision in such writing.

Every summer and Easter, we holidayed in another village, a seaside one. A home away from home. We felt like honorary locals, but I doubt the villagers thought of us that way. Fitzgerald describes people from there, too.

Before I started primary school, most of the UK stopped selecting pupils for either academic or vocational secondary education, and went comprehensive. But the 11+ exam (much mentioned in these pages) is still used where we live, and our child went through it. I have seen its effects for good and ill, “nothing more painful or decisive”. One aim was social mobility, but it can entrench privilege. A girl who doesn’t pass “will be pegging out her own washing until the day she dies”.

At the other end of the social scale, General Gamart’s “hovering experimentally” at his wife’s party could almost be because he was becalmed beyond the familiar waters of Wodehouse.
From long habit, Mrs Gamart rejected the idea that her husband might be necessary for anything.

There’s another person who would be at home in an Iris Murdoch novel: tentacles extending far outside the community, with indirect ability to affect the lives of all, while maintaining the veneer of vague disinterest and occasional philanthropy.

That person is balanced by the quiet, mostly unseen goodness of another, who also has “unseen roots” of information and possibly influence. They recognise each other’s power, but who will prevail?


Rooks circled in the warring currents of the air.

• “She… had recently come to wonder whether she hadn’t a duty to make it clear to herself and possibly to others, that she existed in her own right.”

• “Her winter coat, which was of the kind that might just be made to last another year.”

• “She drank some of the champagne, and the smaller worries of the day seemed to stream upwards as tiny pinpricks through the golden mouthfuls and to break harmlessly and vanish.”

• “The hall… breathed the deep warmth of a house that has never been cold.”

• “The light struck the sluggish glass of a large venetian mirror.”

• “His fluid personality tested and stole into the weak places of others until it found it could settle down to its own advantage.”

• “One can have a very satisfactory party all by oneself” if in the right frame of mind!

• “Looking critically round the hall, as though it were an outlying province of his territory which he rarely visited” - Reclusive Mr Brundish at home.

• “A brilliant, successful and stupid young man.” He’s an MP!

• "[He] went through life with singularly little effort... What seemed delicacy in him was usually a way of avoiding trouble; what seemed like sympathy was the instinct to prevent trouble before it started."

• “Shabby, hardly presentable, he was not the sort of figure who could ever lose dignity.”

• “At the age of ten and a half she knew, for perhaps the last time in her life, exactly how everything should be done.”

• “Though her visitor might be conducting the conversation according to some kind of rules, they were not the ones she knew.”

• “Defeat is less unwelcome when you are tired.”

Possible Alternative Real-Life Ending

A man won a (profitable) bookshop in a raffle, and then decided to run it with an Icelandic friend he only known online (maybe from GR, who knows?):

Film Adaptation of 2017

I've only just seen the film. It looks pretty, there's a good cast, having Christine as narrator is fine, and the revised ending was apt. But there were too many things that did not transfer well to screen, and thus served as a distraction: inconsistent and incorrect accents, scenery that clearly wasn't Norfolk, the village looking far too small for the number of a controversial book Florence stocks, the love angle being exaggerated, and the vendetta seeming less plausible than on the page.

Details on imdb here.

Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
March 2, 2018
On an unusually upbeat evening, I was winding up from work. The recently bought, crisp, intense 300-pages long fictional drama, that I had left, tantalizingly, at the 273rd page the previous night, was softly tip-toeing in front of my eyes. The unread pages were already floating invitingly in the evening breeze and I could not wait to reach home for resuming the date. When I was just stepping into the lift, I received a call from a friend, a bibliophile in fact. ‘Hey! Do you know they are closing down L_____ ?! Can’t believe it man! I am .…….’

I was not listening. No more. The words that reverberated, at first, in concentric circles and then, suspended frozen, were ‘closing down'. That place; so many books, so many friends, so many chuckles, so many revelations, so many years, so many memories….. so much, no more. The floating pages dropped dead, the tantalization turned grievous and the upbeat became deadbeat in an instant.

For many of us, a bookshop is the second home; for some, the first. Florence Green was a proud member of the latter category and was on a mission to enroll the sleepy town of Hardborough, Suffolk under the former. Sustained, most of her life, by the kinship, the euphoria, the enthusiasm and the solace emanating from brick structures immersed in sagacious thoughts and profound poetry, she was more pained than surprised to see that Hardborough, where she had moved after being bared of her familial ties, had no bookshop. Promising herself that her forty-something frame, both above the shoulders and below them, was steely enough to brave the bureaucratic hurdles and warm enough to spread the literary cuddles, she embarked upon filling this void by opening and running a bookshop from the ‘Old House’.
Courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.
And so were hers. The courage and endurance, which lay sheltered under the industrious shields of Christine, her 10-year old meticulous assistant, Ivy, her volatile-but-ethical accountant, Raven, the vagabond-but-helpful marshman and Wally, the mischievous courier boy-cum-cleaner came under trenchant attacks from the ill-disposed but politically powerful Mrs. Gamart, the supine-but-acerbic TV anchor, Milo and well, even the ‘poltergeist’ at the ‘Old House’. Florence fights, valiantly, through bundles of unsold stock, dwindling helping hands, dilapidating premises, legal impediments and shrinking hope.

But her internecine fight was not in vain. She gained, me.

When she continues to deliver free books to the primary schools despite her gloomy financial books, I stand there like a loyal visitor, enamored by her desire to spread the sparks of learning. When she trounces her duplicitous attorney with an authority that rivals those with the parliamentary sentinels at their disposal, I feel my hands instinctively rise to safeguard her from the legal barrage. And when her clamorous ordeal compels Mr. Brundish, the recluse boulevardier with highest distinction, to banish his decrepitude, drag his limp body, wound around a walking stick and counter Mrs. Gamart with a countenance to bring the wrongdoer to dirt, I could not help but feel proud.
Will-power is useless without a sense of direction.
But what direction did Florence choose in the end? I don’t know because she never told me. I guess no one, in her place, would have. Because people who love books and bookshops are much like them: they don’t believe in ends...
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,073 followers
October 12, 2020
Me ha encantado.
Es una historia sencilla, breve y triste.
Una tragicomedia que habla de la soledad y de las dificultades para salir adelante en un pueblecillo pequeño en el que las reglas están estrictamente marcadas y es imposible huir de ellas.
Es un libro extraño porque no trata de crear grandes argumentos ni mostrarnos la valentía de la protagonista por sacar su negocio adelante, no, es la narración pacífica y tranquila de una mujer ya mayor tratando de navegar en aguas turbulentas. Creo que por eso mucha gente no consigue conectar con 'La librería', es un libro hecho de pequeños momentos, de apariciones de personajes que dejan mucho en el aire...
Creo que he conectado con la historia tanto porque se de primera mano lo que es tratar de sacar un negocio adelante sola, y porque adoro esa sencillez para mostrarnos los sentimientos humanos más escondidos.
Es un libro lleno de matices, muy sencillo, real y pesimista.
Me descubrí deseando que no se terminase, haciendo pausas para que me durase más la lectura.

"Sabía que había venido siguiendo un impulso de bondad. Al final, lo que ella valoraba por encima de cualquier otra cosa era la amabilidad"
Profile Image for Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*.
2,473 reviews1,083 followers
February 2, 2016
1.5 stars

The back of this book says that The Bookshop was 'shortlisted for the Booker Prize but unfortunately, to me, it sucked. I'm the first to admit some books are a bit over my head or I don't always get it, but in this case, I clearly GOT it, it just wasn't that good. I would have dished out two stars too, but the ending ruined that and left me in a bad mood.

The main reason this book almost didn't get finished (I would have abandoned if it wasn't so short), is that it was boring. Seriously boring. I was excited about a book with a bookshop. I love small towns. I love elderly women wanting to open a bookshop. I love shop rivalry. So what was missing? Any interest. The writing is dry and not to my tastes. This didn't help at all, but could be overlooked if the story actually had anything happen in it.

There are short bouts of humor I appreciated and enjoyed, but overall it's lackluster. The ending is a mega letdown too, not just because life can suck for fictional characters as well as readers, but because:

The heroine is likeable enough, I suppose, but there's no solid reason for wanting to open a bookstore in the first place. She does not even, to me, seem to be that big of a book lover. She also has little fight in her. The town is narrow-minded and bigoted, which can be interesting in itself and loan a decent story, but here it just felt pointless.

There's nothing going for the book. I wasn't interested in the story despite trying with best efforts, the end was a let down, the beginning slow, the middle without direction. There is no climax either. It's seriously just 'suddenly there'. There's really no point to the novel - it's not even a book about failed dreams or anything really, or life lessons learned, it's just a depressing turnout that's not fair and not fair to read about. Even the assistant who the heroine cares for...well, I don't see what's so great about the 11 year old. She seems rude and distasteful to me.

The only thing I did enjoy was the small section for Lolita with the display and letters written back and forth about it. Cute stuff.

Obviously this isn't a book I can recommend. I wish it was, though, I usually dig bookstore and library settings.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.5k followers
December 14, 2021
If you believe that people are fundamentally somewhat selfish and unkind, this is the book for you.

Bonus points for book representation.

I don't really think that, because if I did I would be forced to give into a lifetime of sorrow and cynicism and suffering and other alliterative negativity, but I do think a lot of people are.

And I do hate capitalism.

And I do like books.

So this wasn't bad.

Add to it the fact that I've had exercise routines longer than this book (which may not sound insane, but consider that working out is, for me, an undertaking I embark on approximately once every three years and get sick of nearly immediately and you'll get it), and there's a lot to like.

Not enough to make this a truly pleasurable reading experience. But a good amount.

Bottom line: Apparently not every book about a bookstore is destined to be my favorite thing ever! Who knew.


give me all the books about books

clear ur shit prompt 5: your shortest book
follow my progress here
Profile Image for Warwick.
844 reviews14.6k followers
February 7, 2017
Reading this in conjunction with other nominees for the 1978 Booker Prize, like Jane Gardam's God on the Rocks and Kingsley Amis's Jake's Thing, really does give you this impression of 70s England as a place of small towns, insular gossip, hostility to new ideas, and a preoccupation with quotidian concerns over any sense of the wider world. In a sense, fair enough – but one does slightly yearn for a little more ambition and pizzazz in the novelling world. By comparison, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, which I didn't entirely love when I read it years ago, seems like a worthy winner; it took those parochial English elements and made them into something archetypal, something mythic and strange and genuinely literary.

That said, there is loads to like about most of the choices and this brief study in disillusion and small-town rivalries is no exception. Fitzgerald teeters on the edge of tweeness but her writing is unsentimental enough and her characters believable enough to cope with it. My favourite moments came in the unexpected flashes of local landscape and custom – the marshman filing a horse's teeth, the uninhabited housing development slowly falling off the cliffs, the matter-of-fact Suffolk poltergeist inhabiting the bookshop.

I was left impressed with Fitzgerald's steely refusal to sugar-coat her narrative's decline and fall – even if, for me, it was hard not to wish she'd found a way to sublimate it all into something a bit more transcendent at the end. But Britain in 1978 was clearly about as untranscendent as you can get.
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,726 followers
November 20, 2021
I feel at a loss about this book. I finished it three days ago, and my thoughts about this little 1978 Booker-nominated novel still haven't settled in a definitive manner. They haven't settled at all.

Did I like it? I don't usually have difficulty answering that question. Of course, there were things I liked about it. I liked that the protagonist, Florence Green, wanted to spend her widowhood running a bookshop. I liked that she was spunky and stood up to Mrs. Gamart, who wanted her to abandon the idea. I liked the strange, unfriendly atmosphere of the small town of Hardborough. I liked the lack of sentimentality with which this was written, which kept it from being too cutesy.

Some things about it, though, I didn't really like. The main thing, one that I can put my finger on, is that we never really know Florence Green. The book is written from quite a remove, almost like that of a fairy tale, one that includes ghosts (or "rappers" as they are called here). We don't really know why she wants to run a bookshop. She doesn't read and doesn't know good books (and has to ask someone whether they think it would be a good idea to stock Vladimir Nabokov's new novel Lolita in her store). So, this woman who is sort of wide-eyed and carried along by a tide, who doesn't love books particularly, opens a book shop and is met with 1950s English small-mindedness. Should I care?

The weird thing is that I did care. I was thrilled when people lined up to buy the Nabokov book. I cheered when Florence found a champion in Mr. Brundish. My heart sank as the ending approached, that rather brutal ending.

Would I have liked it better if the author had allowed us a little bit of happily-ever-after at the end, I wonder? Or would I have found it twee, and complained of the sweetness? I suspect that this a is a no-win situation for me and Penelope Fitzgerald. No-lose, too. I'm sitting here, right in the middle of the road. What an unhelpful review!
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,221 followers
May 21, 2019
My third Fitzgerald and least favourite. Essentially, it's about the power struggle between two women. Florence is another of Fitzgerald's innocents, doomed to failure. A kind of child woman with a good heart but so lacking in practical acumen that opening a bookshop in a sleepy backward seaside village seems more like a wilful act of self-harm than an act of aspiration. Especially as we're never led to believe Florence has any kind of close affinity with books. She does battle with the power broker Mrs Gamart who wants the property for her own purposes. For me it lacked the subtlety of the other two as if Fitzgerald was fed up with being poor and wanted to earn some money. It's a book that's tailor made for one of those charming period Sunday evening BBC dramas. The characters here are drawn with a more heavy-handed brush. They are more obviously plot devices than living people. Most crudely personified in Milo, the sophisticated nephew of the novel's villain who works at the BBC but ends up replacing the ten year old Christine as Florence's shop assistant. He does what the plot tells him to do, however unlikely. The plot is also dependent on its central character's almost preposterous naivety. Suspension of disbelief became increasingly difficult to allow for the plot's implausible pivots, never more evident than when she hires Milo as an assistant paying him a pittance or when she's so quick to believe her most staunch supporter has ultimately betrayed her. The comedy too can be slapstick, like the series of wish-fulfilment letters Florence writes to her pig-headed solicitor. They are funny but I struggled to believe Florence would write them, another instance of the author bullying her characters into acting out of character for the plot.

That said, there are lots of fabulous set pieces- the anarchy that ensues when Nabokov's Lolita arrives and the poltergeist with whom Florence shares the premises - and some very good writing. Essentially, it's the one dimensional nature of the characters that lets it down. 3+ stars.
Profile Image for Barbara.
285 reviews247 followers
March 28, 2019
As a child I often said to my mother: "That's not fair!" She would respond with : "Life's not fair". Florence Green, the main character in The Bookshop, would certainly agree.

Florence tried to expand the minds of the inhabitants of Hardborough without success. The ethos of this village just wasn't buying it. Due to ignorance, cruelty or apathy, the people let Florence know that what she wanted for them was not what they wanted, certainly not Nabokov's controversial Lolita.

I loved this story and Fitzgerald's style. What some have described as sad was, for me, an enjoyable and realistic story about human nature, power, politics, jealousy, and indifference. I admired Florence's determination and spunk. She ignored Violet's subtle and not so subtle warnings. She called her wimpy solicitor a coward. Not so admirable was Violet's malevolent determination. I loved Christine and Mr. Brundish and their relationship with Florence. Too bad she didn't know that Brundish supported her to the bitter end.

I think Florence will not be deterred. Perhaps after a successful enterprise in her future she will send these words back to Hardborough. From the song by Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive:

Do you thin I'd crumble
Do you think I'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I, I will survive.

Some random quotes that I just really loved-

She drank some of the champagne, and the smaller worries of the day seemed to stream upwards as tiny pinpricks through the golden mouthfuls and to break harmlessly and vanish.

His fluid personality tested and stole into the weak places of others until it found it could settle down to its own advantage.

But the Old House Bookshop, like a patient whose crisis is over, but who cannot regain strength, showed less encouraging returns.

A good book is the precious life-blood 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.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,975 reviews1,986 followers
January 30, 2021
Rating: 5* of five

TODAY 30 JAN 21 this near-perfect book is $3.49!

2019 UPDATE There's a 2017 film that's pretty nearly the book on film. If your library participates in Kanopy's free streaming service, the film is available there.

The Publisher Says: In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop - the only bookshop - in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors' lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence's warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn't always a town that wants one.

My Review: Florence Green is my current idol of Resistance. She has lived quietly and unassumingly in Hardborough, a small East Anglian seaside town, and realized that her life was simply passing and not being lived. So she took her small inheritance and opened a bookshop.

A good book is the precious life-blood 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.

Of course, she takes out a loan against the freehold of her premises to start the business. The sums are risible by today's standards, since this is 1959, but they seem enormous to Mrs Green. She sets out to stock her business with the remainder stock of her former employers in London, then contacts publishers' sales agents to visit and display their wares:

Those who made it {to her shop} were somewhat unwilling to part with...what Florence really wanted, unless she would also take a pile of novels which had the air, in their slightly worn jackets, of women on whom no one had ever made any demand.

This being 1959, a certain degree of wincing at this self-deprecating, or merely invisibly sexist, humor is to be granted; but Fitzgerald wrote the novel in 1977 or thereabouts, as it was first published in 1978. Was this mildly misogynistic sally meant to be read with a raised eyebrow, or was she simply oblivious to its sexism? I don't know, but I'm guessing it wasn't ironic based on the tone of the tale. It's very funny either way.

Life as a business proprietor is not stress-free. Mrs Green is a busy, busy woman. Many are the factors she is required to balance in her running of the business. Yet summer comes but once a year, and after all what good is living in a seaside village if the sea is invisible?

She ought to go down to the beach. It was Thursday, early closing, and it seemed ungrateful to live so close to the sea and never look at it for weeks on end.

It's always seemed odd to me how many people I know here in my own seaside city who simply don't pay the slightest attention to the ocean that surrounds us!

Mrs Green has failed to do one crucial thing in opening her shop: Get the town's Great and Good on side. In fact, when she is invited to the local county set's meeting place, she receives a very simple and direct order to cease and desist her plans to open her shop in the Old House, which it transpires the local grande dame wishes to put to another use. To everyone's blank surprise, she does not back down. The invisible battle lines are drawn:

She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.

The battles go in Mrs Green's favor...until they quite memorably do not. The quality do not like being told no.

But the battles are waged fully! Mrs Green is not one to lie down and say die!

Courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.

The tests are, in the end, simply more than Mrs Green has the resources to withstand. The state gets involved. The lawyers and the banks are not on her side. The town isn't willing to pull themselves out of the primordial muck of How Things Are Done to rally to her aid.

It was defeat, but defeat is less unwelcome when you are tired.

And yet Florence Green stood tall until the last moment, only leaving Hardborough when her very last farthing is needed to buy her way out of the morass that her impertinent refusal to bow before the quality has landed her in.

For that reason, I recommend this book for your 45-hating, Resistance fighting, Yule giftee. It will give them a rock to stand on.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,177 reviews539 followers
September 23, 2015
A small village, Hardborough, hardly surviving the harsh salted air and erosion of the ocean, becomes the choice for a new book shop to be opened by a widow, Florence Green. By all intentions, in 1959, it could have been an asset to the town, but it is soon obvious that Mrs. Green overstepped social boundaries by buying a building that Mrs. Violet Gamart, wife of general Gamart RET, wanted for other purposes. Besides this unforgivable faut pas, Mrs. Green also unknowingly interferes with the social leadership of the formidable arts doyenne, Mrs. Gamart.

Two camps are slowly surfacing and dubious intentions become the name of the game. The kindhearted widow, Mrs. Green, does not understand the forces at work against her. Evil and greed do not make friends, neither do they embrace mercy or kindness. Politics is not for the soft-hearted. Small town politics are seldom for sissies.

It is a weird book, since the ending is unexpected. The author has this unbelievable eye for detail that constantly blew me away. The reality of the ending is fitting, although I was hoping for something more 'acceptable'. I so wanted her, Mrs. Green, to live happily ever after. Alas, novels do not always end in fairy tales, and this is one of them. I think this ending reminds me too much of our own realities which we so often want to escape. :-)

A good read. For sure. An excellent writer. I think the ending de-starred this book, since the prose was really outstanding. With another ending this book would not have become an award winner. I do believe that the ambiance of the book was to confront and question our own morals and approaches to life and living and the people around us. What can we be really proud of in our relationships with other people. Where do we fit in, in this small village issues? How honest are we? What do we really contribute to any group/society we are members of?

We recognize ourselves in this book and find it hard to admit our own roles, hence our aversion to the ending. A Rorschach test of reality we do not want to admit or face.

So yes, it was good and it was bad. It was the truth as we know it. It was us. It is us.

Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,324 reviews2,146 followers
June 25, 2018
Sometimes a book ends in such a depressing way that I struggle to recall what went before. This is one of those books. It makes it difficult to write a balanced review but I will try.

I did enjoy most of the book. The author writes really well and there are many light moments where she exposes the truth of human nature. The dialogue is skilfully done and the main character,Florence Green, always seems to be in charge of the situation. She is portrayed as an intelligent, brave and resourceful woman and there is a lot of enjoyment in the way she takes on the oppositional townspeople.

This makes it all the more surprising when, right at the end of the book, things take an unexpected turn. It is a realistic ending and one which probably helped get the book listed for an award. Sadly for me it was not my kind of an ending.

Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
426 reviews809 followers
August 4, 2017
Un caramelo envenenado.

Parece un libro sencillo, alegre y divertido sobre la vida en un pueblecito y se descubre como una descripción descarnada de las luchas de poder en las poblaciones pequeñas, siempre conservadoras y deudoras de los poderes establecidos, de los caciques de costumbre.

Abstenerse gente que crea en un mundo mejor, o que le frustre que las personas que se lo merecen no siempre reciban lo que se merecen.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,892 followers
December 1, 2019
In a masterpiece of bad planning, the first novels by Penelope Fitzgerald I read were her last ones: The Beginning of the Spring, The Gate of Angels, & the The Blue Flower. Now reading a couple of her earlier ones, like this and At Freddie's I think Fitzgerald as a writer reached her peak quite late, or maybe didn't even reach it before her death. If The Bookshop is your introduction to Fitzgerald you have a treat before you, but for me, coming to it by the worst route, good though it is, I have the feeling that it could have been better.

Above all this book could have been shorter. The core of the story is in two conversation between elderly Mr Brundish who in some mysterious way embodies the community that the story takes place in and the two new comers: Florence Green - widow and the main character of the story & Mrs Gamart, the socially ambitious magistrate with her fingers in all the pies. Take those two scenes, slap on a bit of context and you can reduce the story to fifteen pages- it could have been a short story. Perhaps this is simply a matter of perspective as I sit and think, Fitzgerald's novels can be very easily boiled down to not much at all, indeed she summarised this one as 'a short book with a sad ending' - which as it happens sums up most of Fitzgerald's books.

"Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all" (p.98) runs the motto on Mr Brundish's (large and cold) teapot, this is part of Fitzgerald's dualism, sad books that are very funny - particularly in the adherence to or braking of the conventions of polite conversation or funny books that are very sad with careful little tragedies in this book the consequences of frozen washing and the 11+ visited upon a young girl, there is more dualism too in a story that is hyper local and yet universal.

Fitzgerald goes beyond parody in establishing her setting - the fictional Hardborough on the Suffolk coast, Suffolk is pretty isolated by English standards (meaning a long way from London as a person travels) the railway has abandoned the town, and the bridge has collapsed - there is a ferry boat - but the timetable is kept only on the far bank away from the town, the town faces the North sea, there are fishing boats (but the fishmonger in town is a failing business ). The town is a borough, but hardly a hard one, the houses are damp, the cellars might be still filled with seawater from the last flood, and the fields are marshy, the cows stand in mist up to their udders the whole morning only to vanish back into it by the evening. It is a liminal place, at the end of the earth. But this is universal, everywhere has it's own back of beyond, it's region famous for inbreeding, laughed at as a good century behind the times, so while ultra insular, it was a Spanish director, Isabel Coixet, who turned this book into a Film. Into this setting Fitzgerald sets two incomers - Mrs Gamart who is set on dominating the town and transforming it into a rival to the non-fictional Aldborough, and the widow Florence Green, who decides to open a bookshop.

I had assumed from reading other reviews that the novel would be the bitter, bloody tale of the power struggle between those two and until the last few pages I was certain the novel had been oversold to me. If we follow Mr Brundish and subscribe to his opinions, then Mrs Gamart is a consummate politician who lives and dies by plausible deniability. When the trap slams shut on Mrs Green, it is absolute, crushing, and completely final, best of all Mrs Gamart's fingerprints are nowhere to be seen. "Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all" indeed we might say, but things could have been worse, Mrs Green has her moments of boldness rewarded and her distinct successes, it is simply that in the eternal story of woman versus woman driving a bulldozer, the latter has a distinct advantage.

Like the ballad of peckham rye it is a 1959/60 story, but sex is not Fitzgerald's central concern, class, power and I suppose what is sometimes called social capital are important to both writers who besides seasoning their writing with jokes are equally fond of a cheerfully omniscient style of narration.
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,000 reviews
July 17, 2022
For sure, no one ever feels alone in a bookshop
book shop is a dream come true for a woman who loves reading
a middle aged woman who has passion and persistence
but while the beginnings are always promising, the ends are quite different
Profile Image for Vicky "phenkos".
145 reviews101 followers
April 3, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed The Bookshop and would unreservedly recommend it to anyone who's into literary fiction.

The first thing that strikes you when you start reading this book is the complexity of Fitzgerald's sentences, esp. if you come from a contemporary literature background. Fitzgerarld brings a level of complexity and thoughfulness to her writing that reminds one of Virginia Woolf. Nothing here is in-your-face or confrontational; on the contrary, everything is gentle and subtle, just like the main character, Mrs Florence Green, who, in 1959, decides to take out a loan and open a bookshop in a small East Anglia town.

Why would anyone want to open a bookshop in a still largely depressed town whose inhabitants, one suspects, have as little to do with intellectual curiosity as they would have with an alien species? And yet, Mrs Green's bookshop does rather well at first, in fact so well that she has to hire a little girl of 10 to help her with her customers. Books about the royal family or memoirs of SAS servicemen are very much in demand, as are the services of a lending library which Mrs Green tries to organise. Yet, the bookshop owner makes a few fatal mistakes that will cost her dearly: she fails to make friends with and indulge Mrs Gamart, a local arts doyene. To make matters worse, the 10-year-old assistant raps Mrs Gamart's knuckles when she deigns to pay a visit to the bookshop, irritated by the fact that the lady messes up with the lending library's stickers and leafs through books intended for others. Of course, Mrs Gamart cannot let the insult go unanswered...

I loved this book for its poetic descriptions of the place (the marshes, the buidlings) and for creating a character (Mrs Green) that is as much courageous as she is tactful and kind. She is kind to Christine, her 10-year-old shop assistant, and she's even kind to those implicated in her downfall. No, Florence is not a fool; but she's not a very sensible person, either.

She had a kind heart, though that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation"

But apart from kindness, Florence also has tenacity, and the ending reflects this; rather than give in to despair, as a lesser person might have done, Florence moves on gracefully, though not without feelings of pain and disappointment.

I was touched by this short novel and as soon as I finished it, I borrowed all the Fitzgerald books stocked by my loal library! Thanks, Ilse, for recommending this absolute gem!
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,470 followers
October 4, 2014
I started to read this because I was in the mood for a cozy book about a quaint English village bookshop, but soon found out I was in for something else altogether. While there are those touches of quaint cozy English village life (of which I know nothing personally), it's mainly about the rancor and spite that rises to the surface of the village when the bookshop opens.

It's a small book, not overly ambitious, but it's also perfectly proportioned and written with a master's touch. There's a quick and somewhat shocking scene near the beginning depicting the protagonist helping a farmer hold the unruly tongue of a horse, and once I read that scene I had all the respect in the world for Mrs. Fitzgerald.

I haven't read all her novels yet, but the three that I have read all have a sureness of touch in vivid evocation of her scenes, with just enough oddities of style to make one continually perk up one's inner ears while reading.

Something else that attracted me to her was that she didn't write her first novel until she was almost 60, and ended up writing just 5 or 6 before she died.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews767 followers
January 21, 2019
This is so delightfully funny and yet desperately sad at the same time that I'm spoilt for choice of marvels to share. Christine Gipping, for example, she of the broken front teeth:
They had been broken during the previous winter in rather a strange manner, when the washing on the line froze hard, and she was caught a blow in the face with an icy vest.
And this odd accident takes on a sinister note later in the novel when we discover that Christine has failed her 11 plus and will be going to the Technical rather than the Grammar. Her mother:
"I've nothing against the Technical, but it just means this: what chance will she ever have of meeting and marrying a white-collar chap? She won't ever be able to look above a labouring chap or even an unemployed chap and believe me, Mrs Green, she'll be pegging out her own washing until the day she dies."

Mrs Green, small, wispy and wiry, is the dauntless widow who opens a bookshop in a place where no-one seems in need of one, except the poltergeist on the premises ("That doesn't want us to go" Christine muttered. "That wants us to stay and be tormented"). In 1959, in Hardborough on the East coast of England. A time when there was no fish and chips in Hardborough, no launderette, no cinema except on alternate Saturday nights, the need of all these things was felt. Is it thus merely perverse of Florence to think of opening a bookshop whose need is not felt? In a place where the value of a good book is surely recognized by the Bank manager:
"Don't misunderstand me... I find a good book at my bedside of incalculable value. When I eventually retire I've no sooner read a few pages than I'm overwhelmed by sleep."
Well, who knows if she might have made a go of it if the privileged upper crust, those who sail easily through life, those who eat up and spit out the bones of insignificant but kindly people like Florence Green hadn't massed their forces against her in acts that are as malevolent as they are arbitrary and careless? Who knows.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books817 followers
May 17, 2019

According to the oldest man in the village, until Florence Green (our main character) opens a bookstore, there hasn’t been a bookshop in Hardborough (sounds Dickensian, doesn’t it?) since Dombey and Son was being published in installments. Not coincidentally (I’m guessing), Florence is also the name of Dombey’s daughter (not mentioned in Dickens' title). Hardborough’s banker, certainly condescendingly, writes to Florence (Green, that is, not Dombey): If over any given period of time the cash inflow cannot meet the cash outflow, it is safe to predict that money difficulties are not far away, a statement which is pure Micawber (he of David Copperfield). Okay, folks, that ends my Dickens interlude (for now). I thank you for your indulgence.

After reading Fitzgerald’s Offshore, I felt the urge to reread The Bookshop. David Nicholls, in the introduction of the 2015 edition, says its last sentence is one of the saddest he’s ever read. I agree; but for me the saddest thing in the book is Florence believing a lie told by the meanest woman in the village about that old man. Perhaps, with further reflection, Florence might realize it was not the truth; and, perhaps, that might bring her some small solace.
Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews676 followers
May 17, 2016
This is a remarkable story about an ordinary woman, Florence Green, who in 1959, decides to open a bookshop in a small East Anglia coastal town - Hardborough. Does she succeed though? All I will say is that she had to contend with local opposition. Also remember we are talking about a different era, pre-internet. Booksellers then worked extremely hard and did not necessarily make financial gains. Their love of books gave them one incentive - to encourage everyone to read.

I've never forgotten the comment from one Goodreads' friend: "I prefer writing over plot".

That is so true here. The story in itself is somewhat pedestrian but there is something in Penelope Fitzgerald's writing style that transcends all of that. She brings to life prose that is lyrical and fascinating.

Such a well-written book.

Profile Image for Luís.
1,944 reviews610 followers
February 14, 2023
The 1950s. Florence Green, an educated widow, arrives in the quiet town of Hardborough on the coast of England and decides to open a bookstore. However, against all expectations, this attitude will disturb the local community's life, which is very conservative and closed to itself. But, realizing the population's resistance, Florence fights against all adversities, showing everyone how books can open doors to the world.
Profile Image for María.
144 reviews3,092 followers
November 27, 2018
Hace tiempo, una amiga me dijo “tía, vamos a ver la nueva de Coixet”. Y yo, que confiaba -y sigo confiando- en su criterio, la seguí sin vacilar. Vi la película con fascinación, su fotografía, su banda sonora, su reparto; todo. Estaba extasiada y se lo agradecí a mi amiga, porque quizás sin ella jamás hubiese sabido de la existencia de La Librería. Después de una noche estupenda, ya calentita en mi cama, me puse a mirar qué opinaba la crítica, y para mi sorpresa, me topé con que la película estaba basada en un libro. Sobra decir que fui corriendo a conseguirlo. Supongo que las editoriales aprovecharon el tirón, porque a los pocos días encontré una preciosa edición conmemorativa de Impedimenta. Estaba feliz con mi nueva (y cara) adquisición. Sin embargo, al subirla a instagram recibí muchos mensajes de personas diciéndome que, aunque habían disfrutado de la película, habían aborrecido el libro. Entré en pánico. ¿Me había gastado 21 euros en algo que no valía la pena? Algunos me dijeron que el libro era aburrido, que no pasaba nada y que era una auténtica tomadura de pelo. Habiéndome gastado ya el dinero, solo me quedaba leerlo para resolver semejante misterio. ¿Me gustaría o lo aborrecería? A partir de aquí, spoilers.

Profile Image for Ivan.
723 reviews15 followers
April 27, 2012
What an ugly little book this is. The town seems ugly, not at all picturesque (at least as described), and the people who live in it are even worse; small minded, uncultured, unfriendly and toady. Why would anyone want to live there, or choose to open a business there?

I’m afraid I didn’t much care for this bleak and uncompromisingly downbeat novel. I found I couldn’t even feel bad for the protagonist who seemed a rather silly sort who opens a book shop on a whim (not from a love of books).


Mrs Green opens her book shop in a long abandoned old building and learns that a wealthy and influential (filthy rich and powerful) local harridan wants the old building for an “arts centre.” When our protagonist resists entreaties to find a different property or give up the venture altogether the villain sets into motion a scheme to displace her for good and all.

I hated the filthy rich woman, but I never developed much affection for Mrs Green either. The author failed to imbue her with any endearing qualities. I felt that I was more outraged at what was happening to Mrs Green than she was herself. There was no outburst of righteous indignation: “I’ve been wronged, damn it!” “I’m being persecuted!” The town folk are a motley crew who don’t seem to care much about this woman, her business or her situation.

If I were Mrs Green I fear this would have morphed into an Agatha Christie story of local dowager found in the drawing room with the sash from the curtains wound round her throat. The actual ending is ultra-real and quite harsh.

There is an underdeveloped and wholly superfluous subplot involving a poltergeist, as well as anecdotal scenes of running the book shop. I’m afraid I didn’t buy into the drama. The whole seemed rather stagnant and failed to engage me on any emotional level until the very end…but too little too late.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
February 6, 2021
She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book165 followers
June 10, 2021
“In the end, she valued kindness above everything.”

This is an excellent story. It comes across as light at first, full of allusions to time (1959) and place (the eastern coast of England), and sprinkled with dark humor. I happily read along, very much enjoying the character of Florence Green setting out on her challenging venture.

“It’s a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it I don’t intend to retreat.”

Florence is determined to make a go of a book shop, against the wishes of the powers-that-be in her isolated little town. I have had my own disagreeable experiences with small towns, and Fitzgerald deftly describes what can happen when everyone knows everyone and you’re hounded by prying eyes and unwittingly caught up in selfish schemes.

The writing is deceptively simple. While it starts with a light feel, about half way you realize you’ve skipped your way into a tragedy. When you’re done reading, you feel like you’ve read something Russian, like Chekhov maybe, which has left you contemplating personal values and the cruelty of human nature.

I’m looking forward to checking out more Penelope Fitzgerald!
Profile Image for Laura .
378 reviews151 followers
May 18, 2019
Gutted by that ending. Felt the doom, but still hoped for good things for Florence. I was reading an online version and literally didn't know it was the last page. Gutted!
Is this Fitzgerald's usual method - the blunt trauma ending - anyone?

I can't rate it either because nowhere near so much fun as Offshore, but this one has taken on a much weightier subject - in Fitzgerald's words: people fall into two divisions, the exterminators and exterminees.

I don't agree with this; but authors will do as they wish in their limited perspective of reality - after all this version of life has only 123 pages.

Another Fitzgerald? Hmm, will take some time to get over that Miserable Ending - and not sure if the pleasure of her writing will offset any further nasty plot twists.

Late addition - have decided on 5 stars - because despite the gloom - she has a point... This is how the Corporate world operates - like a machine. Fitzgerald's character of Violet Gamart, represents a very credible version of people with zero moral value - the Trumps and Putins of our modern age.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,062 reviews495 followers
August 6, 2020
This is Penelope Fitzgerald’s second published book (1978); she had just begun writing 3 years prior at the age of 58. Reminds me of one of those people who start late (well, relative late for Penelope Fitzgerald) in life what makes them famous, be it artist or writer.

I found this slight novel to be a pure delight to read. Turns out Penelope Fitzgerald herself managed a bookstore in, and she knew her subject matter well.

The Bookshop is set in 1959 in a fictional seaside (i.e., North Sea) town in East Anglia, Hardborough. Florence Green decides the town could do with a bookshop, and the novel concerns her running it with some help from a smartass 10-year old, Christine, who says very funny things throughout the book. For that matter other characters in the book say very funny things whether they mean to or not. Although Florence was of the mind that the town needed a bookshop the question was whether the town decided they need a bookshop.

Such writing….
• “…Everybody in the town knew when there were likely to be vacant premises, who was in financial straits, who would need larger accommodations in nine months, and who was about to die.”
• “On wet afternoons, when the heavy weather blew up, the Old House weas full of straggling disconsolate holiday parties. Christine, who said they brought sand into the shop, was severe pressing them to decide what they wanted. ‘Browsing is part of the tradition of bookshop,’ Florence told her. ‘You must let them stand and turn things over.’ Christine asked what Deben (a seller of fish) would do if everyone turned over his wet fish.”
• “Mr. Brundish is an old man who lives alone and seldom if ever ventures out from his home. But he wants to tell Florence that one of the townspeople is hatching up a plot to get rid of her bookshop, so he invites her over. He has lived alone for so long he has no social skills, staring at her…long periods of silence that would make me or you or Florence uncomfortable… awkward…. “He talked so seldom to people that he had forgotten the accepted form of doing so.”
I was trying to remember who I have read recently who has a similar type of wit and I thought of Elizabeth Taylor (a lot of people do not know of her oeuvre), and I feel more confident in my assessment after reading the review by JacquiWine (link provided below).

• In the book, Florence in her bookshop has a section for Everyman editions…” The Everymans, in their shabby dignity, seemed to confront them (paperbacks) with a look of reproach.” I have Everyman editions in my library…I like their style too…some have ribbon bookmarks.
• A 2017 film adaptation entitled The Bookshop starred Emily Mortimer as Florence Green and was written and directed by Isabel Coixet.
• It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978 — she attained that the next year by her novel, Offshore.

From Jacqui and her blog site JacquiWine…Jacqui writes wonderfully thoughtful reviews and this is no exception: https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/2015...
Great and thorough review of Penelope Fitzgerald’s life and her writings by Julian Barnes in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...
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