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Old 01-18-2020, 03:22 PM   #46
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Victoria, you have added some interesting perspective. I felt Florence was embellishing her past experience in a bookstore to appease the bank manager. I was also frustrated at how she didn't want to know more about the financial books; she didn't seem too upset when Christine sold the expensive cards (sorry can't remember specifically what the item was) for pennies compared to the price. One thing that surprised me is how long she was in the town (8 years?) before she decided to take this action to open the bookshop, but in this small village I suppose that still makes her a newcomer.

I think you have nailed my biggest disappointment. I wanted Florence to be a hero - learn lessons from her experience and apply them, triumph over her circumstances of widowhood, win the battle against the cold and heartless Violet.

I liked issybird's description of the characters as flat. I wanted them all to grow in color.
Yes, the author seemed to take away all hope that some good would rise from the ashes. I didn’t even get the impression that Violet would create an Arts Centre. Like Bookpossum, I found the descriptions of the landscape particularly evocative, and they really reinforced the bare, windswept, unforgiving tone of the book. It was a bleak story.

That said, I appreciated the resilience of the local characters and animals. For me they were saving graces, but I can completely see why you’d feel let down. I read a lot of Amazon reviews before reading it, and I think that shielded me from getting my hopes up.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:46 PM   #47
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Victoria, here's some biographical information in The New Yorker. It's interesting that she did not publish until late in life. I too wondered what about her life influenced her to write a story with such a depressing tone.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2.../24/late-bloom
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:47 PM   #48
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I like to read for escapism so I prefer cozy and sentimental and happy endings. Same with movies. I don't mind reading books without happy endings, but I like there to be hope or a lesson to be learned.

I hadn't thought to draw a parallel with The Natural. I think it's an excellent comparison. I see now that my reaction to both books is much the same. Both authors write about characters with bad things happening to them and the continuation of that suffering.
I read for pleasure too, and choose positive books. Like CRussell mentioned in another thread, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to veer away from bleak depressing stories. But I prefer to think of it as ‘practicing good mental health’ rather than ‘escapism’

I would have passed on this book, based on the reviews. But I’m glad I had to read it for the club because I really enjoyed Fitzgerald’s writing. I think she wrote the book she set out to write, and our affective response is exactly what she intended. I haven’t had a chance to look into her background yet, but I’m curious to learn more about her.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:50 PM   #49
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Victoria, here's some biographical information in The New Yorker. It's interesting that she did not publish until late in life. I too wondered what about her life influenced her to write a story with such a depressing tone.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2.../24/late-bloom
Oh, I just crossed posts with you. What a coincidence - thanks for the lead Bookworm_Girl!
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Old 01-18-2020, 04:03 PM   #50
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Christine would have been a much more interesting POV character. I don't see that anyone commented yet on the use of the book Lolita, but Christine and Lolita were about the same age.
I anticipated Lolita was going to be used as a tool to setup a showdown between Florence and the locals and perhaps make more of a statement about arts & culture (like they would be insular and unaccepting of the content of the book and what does that say about the likely success or failure of an Arts Center in town in place of the bookshop). Perhaps it does in the movie! Instead it helped create a link between her and Mr. Brundish and also to be a convenient method to have more cash so the bookshop doesn't fail sooner.

I also thought it was a tool to help emphasize the point that the village is becoming less relevant to the surrounding region and will be bypassed more and more by the world in the future. The book initially attracts community outsiders and tourists into the town to purchase it. Then the new bookshop opens in the other town, and you know that her economic success with Lolita would not be repeated in the future.
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Old 01-18-2020, 07:52 PM   #51
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[...] Well, I intentionally selected the word that I "appreciated" the book more after reflecting on it rather than "liked" the book more. I hope you find your reading groove again soon. We all go through periods like that.
Ah, an important distinction. And, indeed, a better mood may have helped me to appreciate the work, because the more I think about it the more I really doubt whether I would like this book in any mood.

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I like to read for escapism so I prefer cozy and sentimental and happy endings. Same with movies. I don't mind reading books without happy endings, but I like there to be hope or a lesson to be learned. [...]
Or, if there is no lesson learned, at least make me feel for what has happened. For me the prose of this novel, while undoubtedly clever in places, kept me distanced from the characters. Many of them were interesting enough to intrigue me, but I was never let in, let close enough, to really care.

If there is no lesson or journey for the protagonist, there should be one for the reader - some sense of satisfaction come the end. I found no satisfaction from this book.

Last edited by gmw; 01-18-2020 at 07:56 PM. Reason: Elaborating a little.
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Old 01-19-2020, 11:19 AM   #52
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Some earlier comments mentioned parallels with The Natural. There, Roy was largely the agent of his own downfall, a hero with a tragic flaw whose transgressions were on full view. Even though I felt Roy's punishment was disproportionate to his sins, and bemoaned the absence of a chance for redemption, Malamud wrote a bleak and depressing morality tale.

But what has Fitzgerald written? Florence has neither grandeur nor great flaws. What was the point of The Bookshop? She opens a bookshop and muddles along with it, until she's forced out by someone who wants her space. There could be some drama in that, but Fitzgerald doesn't make it dramatic. Florence is mostly passive, from beginning to end--she barely even tries.

I'm just now seeing the parallels between Florence and Christine. Both are attempting something new, both are optimistic about success, both are crushed. Christine, though, seems to have so much more life than Florence, which made me care so much more about her fate.
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Old 01-19-2020, 04:17 PM   #53
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. Or, if there is no lesson learned, at least make me feel for what has happened. For me the prose of this novel, while undoubtedly clever in places, kept me distanced from the characters. Many of them were interesting enough to intrigue me, but I was never let in, let close enough, to really care.
it’s interesting that you felt shut out. The article Bookwork_Girl referenced in her link is worth a read. Apparently Fitzgerald was a very private, stiff upper lipped person, and was reticent to share her own experiences and feelings.

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Some earlier comments mentioned parallels with The Natural. There, Roy was largely the agent of his own downfall, a hero with a tragic flaw whose transgressions were on full view. Even though I felt Roy's punishment was disproportionate to his sins, and bemoaned the absence of a chance for redemption, Malamud wrote a bleak and depressing morality tale.

But what has Fitzgerald written? Florence has neither grandeur nor great flaws. What was the point of The Bookshop? She opens a bookshop and muddles along with it, until she's forced out by someone who wants her space. There could be some drama in that, but Fitzgerald doesn't make it dramatic. Florence is mostly passive, from beginning to end--she barely even tries.

I'm just now seeing the parallels between Florence and Christine. Both are attempting something new, both are optimistic about success, both are crushed. Christine, though, seems to have so much more life than Florence, which made me care so much more about her fate.
I really don’t know what The Natural was about, but I couldn’t find any redeeming features. Not only was it bleak and depressing, but I thought the worldview of the book was preposterous. Practically every person was selfish and out for number one. Even the universe itself is out to get you. ..I won’t repeat my rants about it

But in terms of what this book is about, Bookpossum’s suggestion that it’s about loneliness captured it for me. I take gmw’s point that we should not conflate authors and books. But having read a bit more about Fitzgerald’s life, it’s tempting to think some of the isolation and loss in the book resonate with her personal experiences, especially as she wrote later in life.

I didn’t pick up the parallels between Florence and Christine, but your observation makes me remember a line in the book that I thought was verybodd at the time. They were having tea and there was a line about seeming to be the same woman at different stages in her life.

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Old 01-19-2020, 04:33 PM   #54
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Yes, the article is interesting - thanks Bookworm-Girl.

Fitzgerald’s very English reserve didn’t trouble me at all, given that my parents were both English, and my mother was almost Fitzgerald’s contemporary. It’s probably why I feel very comfortable with writers like her, as well as with Australian writers. A foot in each camp, as it were!

All the adult characters were muted - even Violet Gamart pulled her strings quietly - and I thought that was a reflection of their way of being and the various reasons that had brought them to this place.
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Old 01-19-2020, 05:53 PM   #55
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I’ve been thinking about comments that Florence didn’t learn anything from the experience. I don’t think I agree. The book ends with her leaving town, presumably to try to pick up the pieces elsewhere. She’s probably still in shock, is hurt, and is worried about finding a way to support herself.

It’s true that Fitzgerald didn’t show us what she might have learned. However, why assume she won’t reflect on what happened and learn from it? People are resilient and recover from disaster every day. Florence has already shown she’s plucky, and she’s young enough to have plenty of life left ahead of her....I think I’d be more inclined to say Fitzgerald leaves the book unresolved.
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Old 01-19-2020, 07:28 PM   #56
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I think that was me, Victoria . The evidence I place before the court is that final sentence in the book. If Florence thinks she failed because no one wanted a bookshop she did not understand what happened. They may not have wanted a bookshop enough to protest at the unfair treatment Florence received. (Would anyone really expect that from Hardborough? She had lived there eight years, she should have had some idea what to expect.) But the fact that the bookshop actually made any profit at all - for over a year - suggests they wanted one enough to use it if it was there.

The extenuating circumstance surrounding that final sentence is that it is not entirely consistent with what went before. For the rest of the book Florence shows little sentiment regarding books, except perhaps the Everyman editions, so maybe we should disregard this final moment as Florence being too upset to be coherent in her thoughts - which would be quite understandable. And since the author was quite happy to ignore reader expectation is so many other parts, perhaps she does the same with this last sentence.

I quite agree that Fitzgerald leaves much of the book unresolved, but that last sentence bothers me.
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Old 01-20-2020, 09:49 AM   #57
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I think that was me, Victoria . The evidence I place before the court is that final sentence in the book. If Florence thinks she failed because no one wanted a bookshop she did not understand what happened. They may not have wanted a bookshop enough to protest at the unfair treatment Florence received. (Would anyone really expect that from Hardborough? She had lived there eight years, she should have had some idea what to expect.) But the fact that the bookshop actually made any profit at all - for over a year - suggests they wanted one enough to use it if it was there.

The extenuating circumstance surrounding that final sentence is that it is not entirely consistent with what went before. For the rest of the book Florence shows little sentiment regarding books, except perhaps the Everyman editions, so maybe we should disregard this final moment as Florence being too upset to be coherent in her thoughts - which would be quite understandable. And since the author was quite happy to ignore reader expectation is so many other parts, perhaps she does the same with this last sentence.

I quite agree that Fitzgerald leaves much of the book unresolved, but that last sentence bothers me.
I concede your point, gmw but argue that it’s circumstantial . In comparison, I offer the ‘hand on knee of a stranger on the way to your lover’s funeral’ passage of our last book. Now there was some damning evidence.

At the risk of tramping on sacred ice, it seems your biggest pick with Florence’s is really that she didn’t love books, and you consider that a major crime. I do agree with you that the story isn’t about books or reading, but were we led to believe it was, other than by the title? I suppose our theme set up that expectation too....

Seriously, I can relate to your sense of betrayal though. I was hugely let down by The Natural after it was billed as possibly the greatest book ever written about baseball. Huh Even if it’s a great American classic, (I can’t see why), it felt like a snake oil of a portrait.

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Old 01-20-2020, 11:11 AM   #58
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No sacred ice for my part, just a combination of factors that led me to expect quite a different book. That Florence has so little enthusiasm for books was simply part of the surprise. I think there are many reasons for expecting this book to be something other than it turns out to be: theme, blurbs, title. That it defies literary norms might make it interesting to study, but whether it is successful in its defiance is another matter.

And I don't always dislike a book just because it is unexpected. It can be a set back as you have to reorient yourself in order to follow where the author leading, but sometimes the unexpected can be a pleasant surprise. But if a book isn't what I expected, I do still expected to be something more definite than what this turned out to be. For me, it wasn't short enough to get away with feeling so incomplete.

Ultimately, though, I didn't like the book for the other reason we talked about a few posts ago: I felt that the prose and structure kept me distanced from the characters. And because it never let me in, I got to the end feeling thoroughly unsatisfied - leaving me inclined to get picky about individual sentences .


I missed The Natural, and what I saw of the conversation about it hasn't encouraged me to add it to my reading list.
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Old 01-20-2020, 02:03 PM   #59
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The Natural is definitely a baseball book; there's no other sport or competition that could have been substituted. But The Bookshop's relationship to books is marginal; any sort of shop might have served just as well. The location of the shop is what matters to Violet, not what was sold there.

It would have been a more interesting book if Florence's decision to stock Lolita had turned the town against her, but that's not the story we got.
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Old 01-20-2020, 02:59 PM   #60
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No sacred ice for my part, just a combination of factors that led me to expect quite a different book. That Florence has so little enthusiasm for books was simply part of the surprise. I think there are many reasons for expecting this book to be something other than it turns out to be: theme, blurbs, title. That it defies literary norms might make it interesting to study, but whether it is successful in its defiance is another matter.

And I don't always dislike a book just because it is unexpected. It can be a set back as you have to reorient yourself in order to follow where the author leading, but sometimes the unexpected can be a pleasant surprise. But if a book isn't what I expected, I do still expected to be something more definite than what this turned out to be. For me, it wasn't short enough to get away with feeling so incomplete.

Ultimately, though, I didn't like the book for the other reason we talked about a few posts ago: I felt that the prose and structure kept me distanced from the characters. And because it never let me in, I got to the end feeling thoroughly unsatisfied - leaving me inclined to get picky about individual sentences .


I missed The Natural, and what I saw of the conversation about it hasn't encouraged me to add it to my reading list.
I really do see your points, especially about being kept at a distance throughout the whole book - I was mostly just tweaking you.

But I do think it was purposeful. Fitzgerald has a wonderful scene where Florence realizes that Mr. B is speaking directly to her, loneliness to loneliness, and chooses to let it pass, rather than share a moment of genuine connection with him.

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It would have been a more interesting book if Florence's decision to stock Lolita had turned the town against her, but that's not the story we got.
That’s what I thought would bring her down too. The lack of reaction to the book is actually somewhat unbelievable. At least it would have caused a stir in any small town here.
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