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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparse, elegant writing makes Fitzgerald always a joy.
As with many of her books, you feel as if you have stepped into other people's lives, just like in a dream when you arrive in a situation and watch it unfold. The action is based around the attempt of a middle aged, quiet, village-living woman to open a bookshop.
This so gentle aspiration unleashes genteele vicious activity eminating from the local lady of the...
Published on 28 April 2002 by lucy@lucyaspinall.com

versus
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Scene of Provincial Life
"The Bookshop" is set in the Suffolk seaside town of Hardborough, ostensibly fictitious but in fact clearly based upon Southwold where Penelope Fitzgerald herself once lived. The plot, which takes place in 1959/60, is a simple one. Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, purchases the Old House, a mediaeval building in the town, and converts it into a bookshop, the town's...
Published on 6 Jun 2009 by J C E Hitchcock


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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparse, elegant writing makes Fitzgerald always a joy., 28 April 2002
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
As with many of her books, you feel as if you have stepped into other people's lives, just like in a dream when you arrive in a situation and watch it unfold. The action is based around the attempt of a middle aged, quiet, village-living woman to open a bookshop.
This so gentle aspiration unleashes genteele vicious activity eminating from the local lady of the manor.
You know the slim volume means the book will not last long, and you want it to go on, but when you ahve finished it you know that she was right in making you step back out of their lives and into your own at just that point.
Fitzgerald's characters are always in some kind of private turmoil, whilst carrying on with day to day living, keeping up appearances. It make syou think long and hard about the life lived behind all our ordinary facades.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to day to day life, 30 Nov 2002
By 
taking a rest - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
Many have commented on how brief this work is. There is no arguing the point, as "The Bookshop" is brief as defined by the pages it occupies. Ms. Fitzgerald also writes concisely, however she conveys as much or more than many who would take two or three times the length of her work, to tell the same story. The result would be no better; nothing more would have been related and the reader would have just consumed more time.

The events in the story come to the reader as they affect the central character. We are not privy to every conversation between other characters, nor do we witness their every thought, their every action. Just as we do day to day, we receive and react to information and events, as we are made aware of them. We share the fears, the suspicions, and the insight Florence has, but that is where it ends. We are not taken away from her to hear the plans set in motion by others; we have little advantage over her in terms of information that we alone possess.

I think the book is brilliant because it tells a story the way any of us would have experienced the events if they had happened to us. Ms. Fitzgerald cuts away anything that is remotely extraneous, but what she leaves is beautifully compact and true to life.

I have just started her work "The Blue Flower" which is massive in comparison, should be interesting.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Scene of Provincial Life, 6 Jun 2009
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
"The Bookshop" is set in the Suffolk seaside town of Hardborough, ostensibly fictitious but in fact clearly based upon Southwold where Penelope Fitzgerald herself once lived. The plot, which takes place in 1959/60, is a simple one. Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, purchases the Old House, a mediaeval building in the town, and converts it into a bookshop, the town's first. At first Florence's enterprise prospers, but she is finally thwarted by the malice of the town's most influential citizen, the wealthy Mrs Violet Gamart, who has taken a dislike to her and who has ambitions of her own to turn the Old House into an arts centre. (The real Southwold, in fact, has several bookshops and has always struck me as a rather literary and artistic place; it counts among its former residents not only Mrs Fitzgerald but also George Orwell).

One reviewer complained that this was "more of a vignette than a novel". There may be some truth in that observation, but I would think of it more in terms of a novella or long short story. I was reminded of some of Balzac's "Scenes de la Vie Provinciale". It is a book where atmosphere is more important than plot, and Mrs Fitzgerald excels at conjuring up the often melancholy atmosphere of coastal Suffolk (an area I know well). The town is damp, mist-shrouded and surrounded by marshes; she describes it as "an island between sea and river, muttering and drawing into itself as soon as it felt the cold". The Old House is ramshackle, leaky and haunted by a poltergeist, or "rapper" in the local dialect. Florence's main ally in her struggle with Mrs Gamart is Edmund Brundish, a member of a distinguished old Suffolk family. The Brundishes, however, have been supplanted as the leading family in the neighbourhood by the parvenu Gamart outsiders, and the elderly, shabby, reclusive Edmund lives alone in a crumbling manor house, the descriptions of which add to the general mood of decline and decay.

Like some other reviewers, I found the ending rather abrupt as Florence's hopes suddenly collapse in the space of a single chapter. Although Florence is the main character, she is not as vividly drawn as some of the others. I wished the author had paid more attention to the devious and obsessively spiteful Violet Gamart, clearly a much stronger character than her hapless victim Florence and more potentially interesting. Legal affairs play an important part in the book, but the author's knowledge of the law is not always certain. An "indictment", for example, is a document used in criminal proceedings, not civil ones which would be started by a writ or summons. I found it difficult to believe that a local authority would be able to acquire a property compulsorily without paying compensation; the acquiring authority would be obliged to pay the market value of the land, with allowance made for any defects. Seen as a piece of atmospheric writing, "The Bookshop" is a fine work. Seen as a piece of storytelling it is perhaps less accomplished.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very touching story, 15 Jun 2011
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This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
I almost feel ashamed that, until a few weeks ago, I had never read anything by Penelope Fitzgerald. I'm rectifying that omission now, having read The Beginning of Spring and this book. The story takes place in a small Suffolk coastal town, where a genteel widow of limited means decides to open a bookshop. One person in particular is determined to destroy Mrs Green and her idea and is completely ruthless in doing so.
The story is set at a time of change in the country; Lolita has been published and Mrs Green is persuaded to stock it (successfully) in her shop. An intelligent and kind woman, she is dispirited and saddened by the lack of loyalty she finds in the small town where she has lived for 10 years. One wishes so hard for a happy ending; I won't give it away. This is really a book worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bookshop, 13 Sep 2014
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
In 1959, widow Florence Green has decided to move to the Old House, which is apparently haunted, and open a bookshop – the only bookshop in Hardborough, a small town on the Suffolk coast. Of course, everybody in the town knows everybody’s business, and what Florence intends to do is well known. She is quite confident she can run the business, having worked in a bookseller’s in her pre-married days some twenty five years earlier. The noted Mrs Gamart informs Florence that she had wanted to open a cultural ‘arts’ centre in the Old House. But Florence sees no reason why Mrs Gamart should have her way.

The author is a new one to me, but has clearly been writing for many years; this book was first published in 1978. A fairly short novel, less than 120 pages, the writing style is clever and sparse – it reminded me of the sharp and insightful observations of an author such as William Trevor. But although short, and I suppose what you would call a ‘modern’ novel, this is not a light work. It has layers of meaning and leaves the reader thinking long after the last page is turned. I found myself really on Florence’s side in this battle against the local Goliaths. This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978, and the author’s book Offshore won the Booker Prize in 1979. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I look forward immensely to reading more of Penelope Fitzgerald’s books. Wonderful, insightful, witty, and altogether so full of the ‘human-ness’ of the human race that it should make all readers somewhat uncomfortable with what people can, and will do to each other.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penelope Fitzgerald - The Bookshop, 26 Sep 2008
By 
RachelWalker "RachelW" (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
A lovely little book, where a late 50's coastal town is turned into a subtle, underhand battleground for and against a bookshop. Characters are developed admirably in little space indeed, a sinister atmosphere created seemingly out of nowhere, and a book about a bookshop says much more about people than you would imagine it could. The writing is clear and bristles with every word's intention, and there are moments of great warm humour amid the rather sorrow-making bitterness directed to the shop. Great stuff, and a really recommended read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Requires Repeat Visits, 28 April 2011
By 
Jo D'Arcy (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
This is the story of a small town in the late 1950s where a resident Florence Green against the wishes of many others decides to open a bookshop in the twon. What results is a battle between the people that have standing and connections and the ordinary folk who enjoy using the bookshop.

Penelope Fitzgerald's short book, less than 160 pages is rather a bittersweet tale of a battle of wits it has eccentric characters, a supernatural presence rapping in the building where the bookshop resides and scenery and location described beautifully. The character of Mrs Gamart is an irritation who thinks nothing of people's feelings whilst she goes out of her way to get what she wants. Christine, the young girl who helps Florence in the bookshop, is like a breath of fresh air in the town for she will be the next generation but even she has to admit defeat in the face of Mrs Gamart. Florence Green herself, quiet and unassuming can soon put people back into their place but it is not strong enough for the will of Mrs Gamart who finally succeeds in her mission.

Despite being a very short book, it felt much longer. You really have to read and linger on each sentence, paragraph and page to get anything from the book as well as the enjoyment of reading it. For that it is worthy of more than one read, because I feel I would get more out of it second time round. A book with a lot of sadness and somewhat black humour in dealing with small town politics and small minded town folk which will evoke differing feelings I am sure on a reread.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny, yet disturbing, novel, 25 Nov 2010
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
Fitzgerald's slim novel, set in 1959, is the story of a Florence Green who opens a bookshop in an East Anglian coastal community. Cut off by the river and threatened by the encroaching sea, the town and its inhabitants have become more and more isolated, and Florence's bookshop is thus a new and disturbing addition to their lives.

The book is astute, rather eerie, and includes some very funny observations on the community. There are some great characters, such as Florence's 10-year-old assistant Christine, a child old beyond her years.

Underneath the gentle humour, however, the book has a very hard core and more seriously is about the way people can use their power (along with the confidence it brings) to sweetly undermine, bully, and ultimately destroy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather Genteel, 11 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
England in 1959. Kind, tiny and widowed Florence Green, who has never drunk Nescafe in her life, moves from London to Hardborough, a small town on the Suffolk coast, to open a bookshop. Why she chooses this particular town is unclear; however, it's a comedy locale full of charmingly odd characters, where everyone knows everyone else's business, people speak quaintly ('do they'll have her up'), and there is absolutely nothing to do. Unfortunately, powerful local interests want the bookshop's site, and set about getting Florence out of it. While fighting her rearguard action, she deals with a precocious ten-year-old shop assistant, a watercolourist who wants to exhibit and 'local authors' who want to do signings. She worries about whether to stock 'Lolita', and how to do the accounts. I like these kinds of social comedies, although this one was perhaps a little too genteel even for me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars for Craftsmanship, 3 Stars for Entertainment, 27 July 2009
This review is from: The Bookshop (Paperback)
At around 150 pages The Bookshop is a work that can be devoured in a single sitting, and is intended to be. The Bookshop is perfect in every way. It is a literary masterpiece where every action, scene, sentence and image exists for a reason and is swollen with significance like the swollen marshes of the fens that lace the novel.

From the first page we encounter the portent imagery of a heron and an eel fighting for their survival, a motif which occurs throughout the novel, encapsulating Florence Green's fight with her community. As the story develops there are other significant motifs to ponder; the red dress for example of the behaviour of `the rapper'.

The plot is simply poised; our protagonist, middle-aged Florence Green decides to open a bookshop in her village and is shocked to discover that local opposition is about to make her venture more difficult than she predicted. This is a book about the spite and fear that exists in provincial communities but it is also a portrait of the individual versus bureaucracy.

Fitzgerald makes allusions to the rotting current of unfairness with simple narrative enhancements; the village is named Hardborough for example. There is damp in the old buildings signifying that rot is setting in.

The characters are drawn with dark humour. In any other setting and in under a lesser writer's pen they could easily have become caricatures, but it is testament to Fitzgerald's skill that many of them remain on the right side of revolting.

So as outlined earlier, this book is perfect so why only 4 stars? Without question The Bookshop deserves 5 stars for literary merit, economy of style and demonstrating insight into human nature, presented in beautiful, lyrical prose, but I just failed to find it entertaining. I am only too aware that this is a subjective point of view and a matter of individual taste. I wished I'd enjoyed it more, the book deserved it, but I would whole-heartedly recommend it anyone who appreciates style and form, especially within poetry or short stories to give it a go. You may engage with it on a whole new level. I can't deny that this book is important, and has added something new to my appreciation of great writing. I think Penelope Fitzgerald summed it up best herself in The Bookshop:

"A good book is the precious life-blood of a masterspirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity."
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The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (Paperback - 30 Jan 2014)
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