Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

"The Bookshop" by Penelope Fitzgerald (Fourth Estate, 2014)

It was first published in 1978. This version has a Preface and Introduction (in which it says "this is no cosy sub-Ealing comedy ... Expectations are constantly denied, explanations withheld", p.xvii). The setting's based on Southwold. Secrets are hard to keep yet people know so little about each other. London (aka the BBC!) and Cambridge are distant and semi-mythical. Early on, Florence Green discusses with Mr Raven the advisability of opening a bookshop in a little sea-side village while holding a horse's tongue. The premises she buys was earmarked as an Arts Centre by one of the locals. It's haunted by a poltergeist. When she starts selling "Lolita" her fortunes change. "They hadn't sold so many of any one thing, not even Build Your Own Racing Dinghy ... they arranged the Lolitas in pyramids, like the tins in the grocer's (p.104)". But she's threatened with a law-suit because of the crowds, and her 11-year old helper dresses in a bikini for the Nativity play. 10 years later she's evicted by a technicality.

To me it's a light comedy of manners, too long at 156 pages. The meeting with Mr Brundish (p.98) is interesting. Elsewhere the lack of explanations and dead-pan responses to unusual events reduce the plausibility without providing a replacement. In such a context, little observations shine in a way that they wouldn't in a denser novel -

  • 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 (p.22)
  • His fluid personality tested and stole into the weak place of others until it found it could settle down to its own advantage (p.22)
  • Later middle age, for the upper middle-class in East Suffolk, marked a crisis, after which the majority became water-colourists, and painted landscapes. It would not have mattered so much if they had painted badly, but they all did it quite well (p.68)
  • They won't understand it, but that is all to the good. Understanding makes the mind lazy (p.101)
  • "I don't know that men are better judges than women," said Florence, "but they spend much less time regretting their decisions." (p.102)

There's a typo on p.133 - You're to young to bother about dying

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tim

    Sounds interesting. I might try to get hold of a copy.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish