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Old 01-15-2020, 09:19 PM   #16
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I liked the book, although I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was disappointed as I was reading the book because it did not match my expectations. I had never read anything by Fitzgerald before. I was expecting a more sentimental book and perhaps a transformation in characters and the town as a result of the bookshop. I think my expectations were influenced by the movie trailer. I haven't watched the movie so I don't know how faithfully it follows the book. It seemed that there were many moments when you still had hope that things would work out and improve and then it doesn't. On the other hand, as others have mentioned, I really enjoyed the writing and the imagery.

"Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have." Or maybe not.... The book is ultimately about failure rather than success. The last sentence of the book was a gut punch. She starts the book with anxious and sleepless nights and ends it in shame forced out of town.

However, I appreciated the book much more after finishing and reflecting on the bigger picture of the book's journey and having the perspective of knowing the outcome. I can understand why she made the character and plot development choices that she did now.
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Old 01-15-2020, 09:46 PM   #17
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I agree, Bookworm_Girl - the book stays with you after you finish reading it.

That statement about succeeding was rather crushed by the motto on Mr Brundish's silver teapot: Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all. A pretty bleak view of life to my mind!
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Old 01-15-2020, 10:43 PM   #18
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From the synopsis of the movie in Wikipedia (that I read after finishing the book) it seems to me the movie might be "inspired by" rather than following the book. Of course you can't get Bill Nighy in to play Mr Brundish and then only see him so briefly - to leave out the many other departures.

Bookworm_Girl, you note the impact of the last sentence - as did the introduction in my edition of the book. But how did you interpret it? The main thing that struck me about it was that Florence still didn't understand what had happened to her. Wanting or not wanting a bookshop had almost nothing to do with what happened. It was an act of capriciousness on the part of Violet Gamart, and I fully expect that the arts centre will never happen (Violet has made her point and will quickly lose interest in anything more). So if there is a tragedy in the end of this book, it is that Florence has learned nothing from her experience.

I'd also add, Bookworm_Girl, that I think my disappointment had much the same source as yours: I was expecting something completely different. But so far reflection has not made me like this book any more. Maybe it's a mood thing, I've not been able to settle into reading anything much in the last few weeks.


Bookpossum, that text from the crest of the teapot ("Not to succeed in one thing is to fail in all") was one of a number of lines that had me do a sort of double-take. Another, from early in the book, was "But courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested." What is the reader to make of such mottoes when they seem so contrary to reasonable expectation? They are disturbing.

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Old 01-15-2020, 11:04 PM   #19
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We agree that the style was affectless, but not the result. I was left with a sense of mostly repressed characters who had been ground down by life and circumstances. The rapper was the physical manifestation of all that repression.
The rapper seemed an odd intrusion into the story. I didn't know what to make of it, but suspect your sentence above is probably what the author intended.

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The exceptions were Violet and Milo, and Christine for a while. It seems deliberate that she's different, still her own personality with agency, because she's not got her period yet. Poor thing, even her mother abandoned all hope for her once she was condemned to the technical school.
Christine's apparent failure did come as a surprise. I figured Florence was destined to fail but had thought the author might leave us Christine as a sort of consolation prize. If I felt real sadness anywhere in this book it was for Christine. (The movie, apparently, offers something rather more hopeful for her future.)
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Old 01-16-2020, 01:18 AM   #20
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Christine was reported as having been suspended after only half a term at the Technical high school, though we don't know why. It was presumably for something fairly serious, unless of course the baleful influence of Violet Gamart had spread even to the school. I wouldn't put it past her to want to avenge that rap on the knuckles.
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Old 01-16-2020, 07:50 AM   #21
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Yes, wasn’t the tumbled estate a striking image? As depressing as it was, it was also neat that the villagers would go sit on the orphaned front steps to pass the time. In their own way, they were quite defiant in the face of inevitability.
For me, the most striking thing about the estate is that it had been built only five years earlier. Ill-found, just like the bookstore. In the context of the time and post-war housing and material shortages, probably not entirely realistic, although evocative of bombed-out building sites, of which there still would have been many. And it wasn't even stripped of its plumbing; the bookstore went one worse here, as it had been founded on reject stock and what was left would have been valueless - unless to some other dumb cluck.
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Old 01-16-2020, 07:53 AM   #22
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That said, I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s sense of humour and felt it rescued the book from being mired down. There’s a lot of resistance and resilience in the face of fate.

PS
I enjoyed Christine too, but I don’t feel so pessimistic for her. I think Fitzgerald would have her lose, like everyone loses in the end, but show the same pluckiness as the landscape and people around her.
I don't know what to make of Christine's fate. Her expulsion from the technical school is troubling; otherwise I'd have pegged her to follow in her mother's path and not been all that unhappy with it.

And speaking of Christine and the mordant wit of the book, there's her broken teeth, taken out by a frozen undershirt. That's just cruel. If life's randomness will do that to you, it doesn't bode well.
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Old 01-16-2020, 08:02 AM   #23
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I liked the book, although I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was disappointed as I was reading the book because it did not match my expectations. I had never read anything by Fitzgerald before. I was expecting a more sentimental book and perhaps a transformation in characters and the town as a result of the bookshop.
I wouldn't have thought it nearly as brilliant if it had been sentimental and hopeful. Things don't always work out for the good and we need books that reflect that.

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"Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have." Or maybe not.... The book is ultimately about failure rather than success.
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Christine's apparent failure did come as a surprise. I figured Florence was destined to fail but had thought the author might leave us Christine as a sort of consolation prize. If I felt real sadness anywhere in this book it was for Christine. (The movie, apparently, offers something rather more hopeful for her future.)
Like The Natural! I don't have an issue with a movie tinkering with its source material and can look at a movie on its own merits, but I think in terms of this particular story that ending weakens it. Why go for the upbeat?

Poor Christine of the broken teeth! She was never going to be middle class. Dentistry is destiny.
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Old 01-16-2020, 09:53 AM   #24
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I liked the book, although I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was disappointed as I was reading the book because it did not match my expectations. I had never read anything by Fitzgerald before. I was expecting a more sentimental book and perhaps a transformation in characters and the town as a result of the bookshop.
I wouldn't have thought it nearly as brilliant if it had been sentimental and hopeful. Things don't always work out for the good and we need books that reflect that.
[...]
I can't speak for others, but I will anyway . When an avid reader sees the title "The Bookshop", they have different expectations* than they would to a title like "The Souvenir Shop", or "The Widget Shop" or whatever. Books, to an avid reader, are not mere commodities, but that is exactly what we get with this story. The shop could have been pretty much anything at all. (Although, I think "The Craft Shop" would set up similar expectations to "The Bookshop" in that we expect some enthusiasm from the participants for the goods they are peddling.) Why did the author choose a bookshop? Apparently because she had once worked in one.

I think the next shock was the gradual realisation that there were no contrasting emotions in here. Everyone was miserable, even Violet Gamart - although we might imagine a grim smile of satisfaction after the final page of the book. The most hopeful thing about this book seemed to be, or should have been, opening the bookshop, but we only hear about that in a vague sort of retrospective, with most of any sentiment sucked out. And this felt false to me. Such an endeavour - even for a "Widget Shop" - should be one of hopes, at least early on, but no, after eight years in this dismal town, Florence seems to be as lacking in passion as Milo, and is apparently opening a bookshop for no better reason than she had once worked in one.

You cannot properly reflect the impact of not working out for the good, if you do not reflect the hopes that have been dashed. There was so little sentiment at the start of this that the failure seemed of little consequence. It seemed to me that Florence would cry about it for a while on the train and then move on; no harm done.


For my tastes the book was either too short or too long. As a short story I think this could have worked quite well. Or, it could have been filled out and the characters given a bit more room to breathe - we could have started to see their character rather than relying on the author's descriptions, clever though they be.


* Don't forget this was nominated under the theme "books about books", so the expectation was obviously there.
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Old 01-16-2020, 12:29 PM   #25
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I can't speak for others, but I will anyway . When an avid reader sees the title "The Bookshop", they have different expectations* than they would to a title like "The Souvenir Shop", or "The Widget Shop" or whatever. Books, to an avid reader, are not mere commodities, but that is exactly what we get with this story.
Well, they are and they aren't. It won't do to be sentimental about the stock; bookselling requires the same kind of hard-headed business decisions that selling widgets does. The single smartest thing Florence did, in fact, was ordering those 250 copies of Lolita, and what's that but treating a great work as a widget?

And it wasn't just Florence, when you consider the strictures on the lending library, where the bookstore had to provide so many unreadable books for every desirable one.

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I think the next shock was the gradual realisation that there were no contrasting emotions in here. Everyone was miserable, even Violet Gamart - although we might imagine a grim smile of satisfaction after the final page of the book. The most hopeful thing about this book seemed to be, or should have been, opening the bookshop, but we only hear about that in a vague sort of retrospective, with most of any sentiment sucked out.
I didn't read this as hope, but as desperation.

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Florence seems to be as lacking in passion as Milo, and is apparently opening a bookshop for no better reason than she had once worked in one.
I agree in general, but even going to work for the a bookshop originally indicates a certain feeling about books, if not for books. I don't have the sense that Florence was a reader, either. Her customers were, but only of things that reinforced their sense of self.

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You cannot properly reflect the impact of not working out for the good, if you do not reflect the hopes that have been dashed. There was so little sentiment at the start of this that the failure seemed of little consequence. It seemed to me that Florence would cry about it for a while on the train and then move on; no harm done.
Well, I disagree with this. My impression is that she was destitute, that the bookstore had eaten up all her resources. For that matter, I don't know if it's clear why she fetched up in Hardborough in the first place. She's been there for "eight years of half a lifetime." She's been a widow for 20 years, presumably the half a lifetime. Why caused her to move there in 1951? Her coming is random just as her going is, but it was a catastrophic choice on her part.
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Old 01-16-2020, 02:12 PM   #26
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"Surely you have to succeed, if you give everything you have." Or maybe not.... The book is ultimately about failure rather than success. The last sentence of the book was a gut punch. She starts the book with anxious and sleepless nights and ends it in shame forced out of town.

However, I appreciated the book much more after finishing and reflecting on the bigger picture of the book's journey and having the perspective of knowing the outcome. I can understand why she made the character and plot development choices that she did now.
The gut punch for me was when Florence thought Mr. Brundish had come around to idea of an arts centre. The author certainly didn’t leave us much for consolation! She ripped everything to shreds by the end.

She did give us the human decency of Mr. Brundish, Raven, Christine and the scouts though; I guess they were the counterbalance.
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Old 01-16-2020, 02:22 PM   #27
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Well, I disagree with this. My impression is that she was destitute, that the bookstore had eaten up all her resources. For that matter, I don't know if it's clear why she fetched up in Hardborough in the first place. She's been there for "eight years of half a lifetime." She's been a widow for 20 years, presumably the half a lifetime. Why caused her to move there in 1951? Her coming is random just as her going is, but it was a catastrophic choice on her part.
I thought her savings were completely wiped out too, and would have to go back to work, though “no longer young”. And it also struck me as odd that she had moved there in the first place - she didn’t seem to have any connections there. I thought it was probably a financial decision- a cheap place to live on the modest income from her late husband.
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:42 PM   #28
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Yes, I agree - Florence was ruined. No compensation for the building, no car, no books, no money left over from paying off the debt to the bank.

I too thought she must have moved to Hardborough for financial reasons as the living there would be cheaper than in other more prosperous places.
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:49 PM   #29
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Well, I disagree with this. My impression is that she was destitute, that the bookstore had eaten up all her resources. For that matter, I don't know if it's clear why she fetched up in Hardborough in the first place. She's been there for "eight years of half a lifetime." She's been a widow for 20 years, presumably the half a lifetime. Why caused her to move there in 1951? Her coming is random just as her going is, but it was a catastrophic choice on her part.
I admit I was being partly facetious, but there is so much we don't know surrounding this story. At the start she had a car and a "very small amount of money her late husband had left her". At the end we learn the car is gone and must presume the "very small amount" is also gone. However, at the end we also read "having sent her heavy luggage on ahead" and are forced to wonder "to where?" She doesn't appear to have been made actually bankrupt as such, and apparently has somewhere else to go, but like so much else in this book, that is not explained.

If, as seems to be the case, Florence has little love for books why should she suddenly seem to care, at the end, that she had lived nearly ten years in a town that "had not wanted a bookshop"? There are so many things she could have cried over, but instead she cries over something that wasn't true (or wasn't relevant, she would be in the same position had she been selling "widgets") and never appeared to matter very much before. The result was my partly facetious reaction: if she's crying over something like that, then her future can't be looking that bad.
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:57 PM   #30
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I agree with you Victoria - the apparent deflection of Mr Brundish would take all the fight left in Florence. She didn’t allow even at that stage for the malevolence of Violet Gamart and her brazen lie about the reason for the visit.

I don’t agree gmw that Violet was miserable in the least - she was the one character in the book who enjoyed every minute of her destruction of Florence, and while one might hope that she would eventually be brought low, I doubt that it ever happened.

One of the powerful things about this book is its reflection of the harshness and unfairness of life. Happy endings might make us feel good, but they don’t happen as often as we would like them to.
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