Thursday, December 2, 2010

THURSDAY- GOLDEN OLDIES: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald is the story of a book-loving widow who uses her minimal inheritance to open a bookstore in the Sussex village of Hardborough. Written in 1978 and set in 1959, it can be seen as both a cautionary tale (bookstores will disappear if they are not supported) and as a calming influence (the sky has been falling for fifty years and bookstores have not disappeared yet.) However, it would be a mistake to simply see this as a book about the challenges facing independent bookstore owners.

Florence Green’s attempt to build a new business in a place that is resistant to change—and at the same time to improve the literacy of the citizenry and expand her neighbors’ horizons—does not sit well with a minority of the townspeople who, for one reason or another, view her as a threat. Watching the petty way the small minded manage to sabotage her efforts is infuriating. Watching the way her supporters and friends quietly turn their backs and drop away is heartbreaking. It hurts because it is all too believable. We follow the short rise and calamitous fall of Florence Green’s bookshop, the dashing of her dreams, and what surely must be the crushing of her faith in humanity. Booklovers who read this short novel will appreciate the beauty and potential in the world created by Fitzgerald, and feel an ache of regret for all that is lost. So much was offered to the inhabitants of this town by this generous woman who only really wanted to share her love of books. Maybe that’s why Florence’s rejection stings so much.