The bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

amy-the-bookshop.jpgI thought the film was pretty bleak, so I wanted to read the book to see if it was different. If anything, it is significantly more bleak, but also simpler, and somehow more affecting. Florence Green is a widow who opens a bookshop in a small, not especially lovely, coastal English town. It’s not a happy story, not even a little, and it isn’t about the power of books, really, either. It is, however, a quietly powerful story of relationships, strength, and quirky personalities.

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The bookshop

Amy The Bookshop Surely an English, period movie about a bookshop is going to be right up my alley. Florence Green, a widow, decides to fulfill a dream and open a bookshop in a small town by the sea, despite no encouragement from her lawyer, banker, or the townspeople. The scenery is lovely, as are the costumes, and Florence and the reclusive Mr Brundish are endearing characters, but I felt that the film didn’t quite live up to its promise. I still enjoyed it, but I can cope with a bleak and sad ending. If you want bookish and happy, stick to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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A New England affair by Steven Carroll

Amy A New England AffairLargely set in Massachusetts, A New England Affair is an imagined version of T.S. Eliot’s relationship with Emily Hale, which began when they were both young Americans in 1913. It’s about a love that never found its moment, though it endured for many years, and the frustrated longing, and soul searching are poignant. It is a call to communicate clearly, live fully, and to see the beauty in the ordinary.

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The thirteenth tale by Diane Setterfield

Amy The Thirteenth taleI thought I would like this much more than I did. There are lots of bookish elements, and many references to Jane Eyre, and I really enjoyed the beginning, but at times I found the characters painfully unpleasant, which made those sections drag. A young woman who works in her father’s bookshop is contacted by a reclusive author, who asks her to write her biography. What follows is an over the top mystery, with a satisfying ending.

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The invisible woman by Claire Tomalin

amy invisible womanThe Invisible Woman is the story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. With so many letters destroyed, and lies told to maintain the public’s view of the great author, much of this story is guess work, or background history. I quite enjoyed the social history, and the details about Dickens’ work, but the lack of information about Nelly, the way she was erased from history, left her largely without personality, and the relationship between her and Dickens, without heart. I think I would have enjoyed an imagined version, told as a novel, better than this bringing together of scant facts and possibilities.

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The bookshop of the broken hearted by Robert Hillman

Amy bookshop of the broken heartedIn 1960s rural Australia, kind and gentle farmer, Tom, wife has left him again, this time taking the young boy Tom raised, though the child wasn’t his. A glamorous older woman moves into town, a survivor of Auschwitz, determined to open a bookshop. Tom and Hannah find love, but making a new life is complicated. There is sweetness and humour here, and a lovely setting; I think it would make a popular movie. For me, there wasn’t enough character development, the villains were unconvincing (not the Nazis!) and I just wasn’t captured by this story.

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The lost dog by Michelle de Kretser

Amy The Lost DogAn English lecturer, Tom, is staying in the Victorian bush, trying to finish the book he is writing, when his dog goes missing. From that starting point we go back and forth, to India and Melbourne, to the past and the present, exploring Tom’s life and relationships. There is mystery, but it’s not about what happens, but about place, love, relationships with parents and lovers, art, poetry, and belonging. The language is beautiful, and it’s full of thoughtful insights on things like ageing, and consumerism.

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The book ninja by Ali Berg

Amy Book NinjaFrankie, in her late twenties, is in a bit of a mess. She is taking a break from her chosen career as a writer, working in a friend’s bookshop, and her love life is a disaster, and then she comes up with the idea of using books to find her perfect mate. Everyone is gorgeous, quirky, wise-cracking and on a very familiar journey, with bonus book references. I think there are lots of people who will enjoy this cute, modern love story, but all the references to books I would rather be reading, weren’t enough to make me enjoy this. Chick lit really isn’t for me; I just read for something else….

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The reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

Amy Reader on the 6.27Guylain Vignolles lives alone, apart from his goldfish, and hates his job. Each day he gets pleasure from reading aloud, on the train, from pages of books he has rescued. One day he discovers entries from a young woman’s diary, and goes on a quest for love. Set in Paris, with a host of quirky characters, I expected this to be an awful lot sweeter and more heartwarming than I found it. It was rather more coarse, and didn’t deliver on the promises I thought the plot had made, especially about the power of books. It was a quick, and pleasant read, but disappointingly unaffecting.

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Evelyn Waugh : a life revisited by Philip Eade

Amy Evelyn WaughI read Paula Byrne’s biography earlier this year, one concentrated mainly on his friendships and influences for Brideshead Revisited, and enjoyed it so much I was keen for more of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary life. Eade takes the more traditional, birth to death approach, and comprehensively presents Waugh’s life in all its complexity. Like Byrne, he shows that snobbery was not Waugh’s defining trait, though his rudeness, arrogance and cruelty are more obvious in this book, but he also emphasises his humour and extraordinary writing. This is a fascinating look at the man, but also at the time in which he lived and his literary legacy.

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