Occasionally an ad appears in one of the papers I read about a bookstore for sale. The latest one is in the Scottish borders, and so enticing! The idea of living one’s life among books — making recommendations, supporting authors, organizing bookshelves!!!
The best cure for this craving is to read novels set in bookshops. (The less exciting cure, of course, is to remind myself of the challenge and expense of moving abroad, but I’ll ignore those for now.) Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop fits the bill perfectly.
In it, middle-aged Florence Green acquires an abandoned building and opens the first bookshop in a village in Suffolk. I would have thought the villagers would be grateful for this, but that’s where this bibliophile goes wrong. It’s always a mistake to hope that others think the way I do (recent political developments being the sad proof of that). Florence’s plans block the local doyenne’s hopes for an arts center, and the woman slowly, subtly puts her counterattack into motion.
Fitzgerald’s writing is beautiful, showing this village and its inhabitants with particular details that reveal an insular and self-sufficient community. Here’s our first glimpse of Hardborough (a perfect name for a town tough to crack open):
The town itself was an island between sea and river, muttering and drawing into itself as soon as it felt the cold. Every fifty years or so it had lost, as though careless or indifferent to such things, another means of communication. By 1850 the Laze had ceased to be navigable and the wharfs and ferries rotted away. In 1910 the swing bridge fell in, and since then all traffic had to go ten miles round by Saxford in order to cross the river. In 1920 the old railway was closed. The children of Hardborough, waders and divers all, had most of them never been in a train. They looked at the deserted LNER station with superstitious reverence. Rusty tin strips, advertising Fry’s Cocoa and Iron Jelloids, hung there in the wind.
Even this early in Fitzgerald’s brief novel we get a clue to Florence’s fate. A place resigned to cutting itself off from the rest of the world is probably happy to be bookstore-free.
I shuddered as I wrote that last sentence. To quote Spongebob Squarepants: “Those words! Is it possible to use them together in a sentence like that?”
After reading The Bookshop I can safely resist any offer to buy a bookstore, at least until the November election results come in.