The Bookshop ~ by Penelope Fitzgerald

I read this a long time ago and thought I remembered it. Well, I did remember the setting and the heroine’s general predicament as well as how it ended, but my memory of the themes and specifics was almost nil so I read it again. This time my comprehension was way, way off and I misread this book completely. I can only put that down to general exhaustion and worry.

The Bookshop
by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 / 192 pages
read by Doranda Peters – 3h 30m
rating – 8.75
(both read and listened

But during the discussion at The Booker Prize Group I got interested in one question: Why did Florence wear a red dress? So I explored that in my Kindle version and got intrigued by what all was involved.

Oops! I started reading again starting with the Introduction which brought up all sorts of interesting facets And I continued. It is a very short book and events take place one right after the other with very little said about the individual characters and yet that’s what it’s mostly about. I suppose it’s minimalist in its own way and I usually really enjoy minimalist works but this is cutting some real corners when it rushes from one character smack into another.

Oh well, it’s a wonderful novel, quite realistic in a very late modernist kind of way, but without all the detail which often accompanies that form. There is also some focus on nature and the peculiarities of small towns and their “characters.” An over-riding theme is that of predator and prey I suppose and that’s not unlike Fitzgerald’s other novels.

Basically Florence Green, a widow who has lived in the town of Hard-borough for eight years. decides to open a bookshop in a large but broken down old building. That’s fine with everyone who doesn’t read much because they like her. That said, she has one formidable enemy, a wanna-be socialite who has her own high connections and her own ideas about what should happen with that Old House place.

As described in the first chapter, it’s a fight between a predatory heron and an lowly eel who is simply struggling to survive – it’s an “exterminator” and an “exterminatee” if you will. This is the image Fitzgerald paints for us a couple times to underscore that thee. . Although there are nicely humorous parts, a comedy of manners perhaps, a lot of the book, including the ending, are darkly disturbing.