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Friday, August 20, 2010

THE BOOKSHOP by Penelope Fitzgerald

I can’t remember where, why or when I bought this book, but I’m awfully glad I did.

I found it recently while browsing in the piles of the great unread which teeter under my bedside table and woofed it up in a day.

I can see why it was nominated for the Booker Prize.

It’s a very slim volume – 156 pages of widely-spaced lines – but packed with insight. Maybe that’s because Ms Fitzgerald was a late arrival at the literary ball, like the last author I read, Mary Wesley.

Fitzgerald published her first novel at 60, after a career that started at Somerville College, Oxford and then spanned the BBC, editing a literary journal, teaching and running a bookshop. Presumably the inspiration for this novel.

It’s packed with satisfying characters and, unlike my most recent Elizabeth Taylor outing (A View of the Harbour), I found them all equally believable and enjoyable. One of my favourites was a 10-year old girl. Another, an old man who runs cattle on the marshes.

Several of the people are marvellously horrid. One of them actively, from vanity and self-importance, others from laziness, frustration and general weakness. One is very good, but hopelessly ineffectual. I found all that very much like my experience of real life.

It’s an oddly unredemptive story, which did make me slightly wonder what point she was making. Perhaps just that bad things happen to good people?

Or to show how one really unpleasant person can be given enormous power by lots of people not bothering to do very small things which could prevent it.

Which is, I suppose, a metaphor for the whole great wide world.

As well as the people, I very much enjoyed the setting of the book, a bleak little village in East Anglia, which is so vividly portrayed, the weather and the topography of the location become characters in themselves.

I look forward to reading more books by Penelope Fitzgerald, but for now, I really want to find something to read which isn’t about middle-aged middle-class English women.

Suggestions gratefully received.

Reading satisfaction: 7
Un-put-downable-ness: 5
Recommend to best girlfriend: 10
Recommend to mother: 10
Recommend to niece: 9
Recommend to gay best friend: 7
Recommend to man pal: 5
Recommend to Helen Razer: 8
Read on public transport: 10
Unpleasantness: 0


  1. I just finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. About as far away from middle aged, middle class English ladies as you can get... a ninety something Polish-American man reminscing on his life working on a circus as a vet.

    I however am ready for some middle class middle aged English women so will be adding this one to my list!

  2. I just finished reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Yep, quite a few middle class English ladies, but based on the true story of Mary Anning (definitely not middle class!) I thought it was fascinating and fabulous.