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Old 01-17-2020, 12:39 AM   #31
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[...] 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.
But if realism is the objective of the story then I find it unfortunate that it should offer us Violet Gamart as the obvious scapegoat for blame. The idea that there is always someone (else) responsible for the bad things in our life is attractive, but misleading.
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:13 AM   #32
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Sorry gmw - you and I crossed in the mail again last time, and then I had to go out for the day.

True enough, and Florence was at least in part responsible for her own downfall. There was a certain amount of pigheadedness in hanging on to Old House with its rapper, the damp - definitely very bad indeed for books - and its general awkwardness. Especially when what she had thought could be her storage area was only fit to be demolished. Still, she may not have been able to live in the wet fish shop, and she needed space for a home as well as a shop.

Sadly though, there are people like Violet Gamart out there, and during my life I have come across one or two. Luckily I escaped unscathed, but not everyone does.
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Old 01-17-2020, 07:50 AM   #33
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I don't think there's any doubt that the bookshop would have failed eventually, but without Violet, Florence might have been able to retrieve something from the wreckage. And it still would have been a longer chunk of her life that had been sustained, which matters also.

Fitzgerald is explicit:

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She blinded herself, in short, by pretending for a while that human beings are not divided into exterminators and exterminatees, with the former, at any given moment, predominating.
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Old 01-17-2020, 09:22 AM   #34
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That ("exterminators and exterminatees") is another one of those statements in this book that pulled me up short. Such fundamental disagreements had me trying to double-check how I viewed the character(s). And sometimes the statements present a problem, for example the "for a while" in this one leaves it unclear exactly when Florence stops pretending - and the last sentence might have us believe she doesn't stop pretending until sometime very much later.


The above also reminded me that I did at times find some confusion between Florence and the author. The most intrusive (for me) example was the following paragraph:
Quote:
Florence accused herself of vanity, self-deception, and wilful misconstruction. She was a tradeswoman: why should anyone expect her to have anything to do with the arts? Curiously enough, for the next few days she was on the verge of offering to leave the Old House. The suspicion that she was clinging on simply because her vanity had been wounded was unbearable. – Of course, Mrs Gamart, whom I shall never speak of or refer to as Violet, it was Milo North you had in mind. Instal him immediately. My little book business can be fitted in anywhere. I only ask you not to allow the conventions to be defied too rapidly – East Suffolk isn’t used to it. Kattie will have to live, for the first few years at least, in the oyster warehouse.
The three sentences between en-dashes (they may be just hyphens) completely threw me for a time. It seemed at first that the author had suddenly intruded to explain herself, until I widened my view enough to realise it was supposed to be a first-person aside within an aside from Florence.
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Old 01-17-2020, 09:35 AM   #35
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One of the sub-themes I enjoyed was the running, rather snarky, commentary on culture, the arts, literature. I'm still trying to get my thoughts into coherent form about it. But I'm mentioning it here because I do agree that at times I thought Fitzgerald was arguing against herself, or taking both sides of a position.

Here's an example. Florence said to Mr. Keble:

Quote:
"Culture is for amateurs. I can't run my shop at a loss. Shakespeare was a professional!"
Entirely true in itself, except that Florence didn't evidence a focus on profitability when running her shop, even though culture wasn't her focus, either (the widget issue). Yet, again, earlier in the same conversation Mr. Keble:

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"My point is this. If over any given periods of time the cash inflow cannot meet the cash outflow, it is safe to predict that money difficulties are not far away."

Florence had known this ever since her first payday, when, at the age of sixteen, she had become selfsupporting.
Yet, if she'd know this at sixteen, when and why did she lose that discipline? Surely it was behind her disastrous decision to move to Hardborough. But she lost her wits once she started the shop, it seems.
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Old 01-17-2020, 05:38 PM   #36
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Sorry in advance for the long post. We’re having a heck of a storm here and my power has been off for several hours. It’s just come back and I’m sending this off in one go, in case I lose it again.

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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.
Fitzgerald did stack everything against Christine. She was literally kicked in the teeth. However, I thought she’d find a way to thrive, because she was ‘local’, and the local people were survivors.

It seemed that Fitzgerald treated the land as a character, and as a symbol of endurance. Despite all the hardship, it and local people, and the Old House find a way. Christine, her mother and sisters, Raven, the scouts, and Mr. Brundish are hardy, hardworking and resourceful. They plant, make moonshine and fish to eek out a living, just like the old livestock that cope with incessant wind, floods, etc.

The newcomers, Violet, Milo, Florence, Katie, are all defeated, just like the new estate that tumbles down the cliff. Florence fails, obviously, but Milo has no purpose in life, Katie has no future in him, and Violet never gets the invitation and acceptance she craves from the authentic local upper class like Mr. Brundish and the many important guests he hosts. The outsiders don’t have what it takes to conquer East Anglia.

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But if realism is the objective of the story then I find it unfortunate that it should offer us Violet Gamart as the obvious scapegoat for blame. The idea that there is always someone (else) responsible for the bad things in our life is attractive, but misleading.
I agree with this generally. But in this case, I thought Violet was necessary and represented the long arm of money and power abuse that inserted itself into the locals’ lives. It was interesting when the gloves came off between Violet and Mr. Brundish because she had completely underestimated him, and thought he wouldn’t know “who to call”. He’s been pulling his own strings and defeating the new power/ new money’s attempt to erode traditional land holdings for years.

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That ("exterminators and exterminatees") is another one of those statements in this book that pulled me up short. Such fundamental disagreements had me trying to double-check how I viewed the character(s).
It did seem like an extreme view for Mr. Brundish to hold at the time. But when we later learn that he had been defending his traditional land holdings for years, against a wave of new laws, we can see why he characterized Violet as a exterminator, and innocent people like Florence as exterminatees. He warned her not to confuse force with power. The new powers in London took what they wanted and eliminated anyone in their way.

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One of the sub-themes I enjoyed was the running, rather snarky, commentary on culture, the arts, literature. I'm still trying to get my thoughts into coherent form about it. But I'm mentioning it here because I do agree that at times I thought Fitzgerald was arguing against herself, or taking both sides of a position.

Here's an example. Florence said to Mr. Keble:

Entirely true in itself, except that Florence didn't evidence a focus on profitability when running her shop, even though culture wasn't her focus, either (the widget issue). Yet, again, earlier in the same conversation Mr. Keble:

Yet, if she'd know this at sixteen, when and why did she lose that discipline? Surely it was behind her disastrous decision to move to Hardborough. But she lost her wits once she started the shop, it seems.
I thought Florence knew better too - she wasn’t just naive. She tells the bank manager she’d learned the business very thoroughly as a girl, and the fundamentals hadn’t changed. But she doesn’t total the columns in her accounts because she doesn’t want to know the answer. She resists Milo’s suggestion to carry the book if it isn’t a “good book” even though it will sell. When it sells beautifully, she doesn’t bring in more commercially successful books. She even resents the space the cards and other bread and butter items take up, though they sell.

I think she loses the discipline because she’s an avoider. At the beginning of the book she recognizes that the heron and the eel had taken on too much and were doomed by “the indecision expressed by both creatures”. She even avoids her own age. Though she’s lonely, she won’t get in touch with her old friends because she doesn’t want to admit that “the girls” have gotten older.

PS
Since Florence is anti-hero, it seems to me that Fitzgerald’s loyalties were firmly with the local folk. I wonder if that has anything to do with her background. I intend to read a bit more about her now that I have the internet back.

Last edited by Victoria; 01-17-2020 at 07:05 PM.
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Old 01-17-2020, 08:38 PM   #37
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Those are really interesting observations, Victoria. They offer quite a different way to view story ... which bears some further thinking about. I had almost forgotten about the heron and eel, but I think are right about its importance.
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Old 01-18-2020, 01:19 AM   #38
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Indeed - interesting points Victoria. I think it only makes Florence all the more human and believable. She is always unsure of herself. Life has clearly been difficult for her, having lost her husband and apparently without any family for support. She had only the experience of working in a bookshop for a few years before she married.

Remember we are talking about the past, where (apart from during the war) married women weren’t employed. Basically they had to leave when they married, and that was still the situation when I started work in the 1960s. So self-employment was the only possibility, and even today there are plenty of self-employed people who are good at their line of work, but no good at dealing with the financial side of things, and that brings them undone.
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Old 01-18-2020, 02:57 AM   #39
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I agree with you Victoria about the landscape, but I think it is also very symbolic of what is going on. In my review on Goodreads, I likened Violet Gamart to the sea:

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There are some lovely descriptions of the landscape and the birdlife to be seen, and a real sense of the power of the sea encroaching always on the land and the structures raised by humans: the river became unnavigable, the swing bridge fell in, the sea wall caved in, and a housing estate built on a cliff top was tumbling into the sea before anyone had moved into it.

Violet Gamart is as inexorable and as ruthless as the sea, sweeping aside anything and anyone in her way.
She was checked for a while by Mr Brundish, but eventually she triumphed over him too, claiming him to be a supporter once he was safely dead. She was unstoppable.
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Old 01-18-2020, 01:05 PM   #40
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Indeed - interesting points Victoria. I think it only makes Florence all the more human and believable. She is always unsure of herself. Life has clearly been difficult for her, having lost her husband and apparently without any family for support. She had only the experience of working in a bookshop for a few years before she married.

Remember we are talking about the past, where (apart from during the war) married women weren’t employed. Basically they had to leave when they married, and that was still the situation when I started work in the 1960s. So self-employment was the only possibility, and even today there are plenty of self-employed people who are good at their line of work, but no good at dealing with the financial side of things, and that brings them undone.
I agree Bookpossum, she totally believable. In fact, I can too easily relate to her in some ways I found her to be quite admirable. I liked her philosophy of life, and she was smart, kind, and very plucky! As you say, she was a widow in 1950s, with little money and no professional training, such as nursing or teaching, to fall back on. Instead of continuing on her path, she had the gumption to start her own business. Even today, half of all small businesses fail.

Florence may have made more concessions to commercial necessities if Violet hadn’t been in the picture. Violet was behind the scenes pulling all kinds of threads to sabotage the store, and turn people / pressure people against Florence, in addition to having a bookstore store open in the next town. She even had Milo go in as an assistant and close the store to sales, every time Florence was occupied elsewhere. Ultimately the townspeople allowed themselves to be cowered by Violet, so Florence was correct when she states in the last page that her town had not wanted a bookstore.

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I agree with you Victoria about the landscape, but I think it is also very symbolic of what is going on. In my review on Goodreads, I likened Violet Gamart to the sea:


She was checked for a while by Mr Brundish, but eventually she triumphed over him too, claiming him to be a supporter once he was safely dead. She was unstoppable.
I think the sea is a perfect analogy for Violet - powerful and unrelenting.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:00 PM   #41
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I just finished listening to The Bookshop--four hours that felt more like forty. This should have been a short story.

Going back now to read the comments.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:10 PM   #42
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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.
I also think that Florence has not learned from her experience and in the world of Fitzgerald there is no hope that the train is departing for a new town with a brighter future.

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.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:40 PM   #43
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I thought Florence knew better too - she wasn’t just naive. She tells the bank manager she’d learned the business very thoroughly as a girl, and the fundamentals hadn’t changed. But she doesn’t total the columns in her accounts because she doesn’t want to know the answer. She resists Milo’s suggestion to carry the book if it isn’t a “good book” even though it will sell. When it sells beautifully, she doesn’t bring in more commercially successful books. She even resents the space the cards and other bread and butter items take up, though they sell.

I think she loses the discipline because she’s an avoider. At the beginning of the book she recognizes that the heron and the eel had taken on too much and were doomed by “the indecision expressed by both creatures”. She even avoids her own age. Though she’s lonely, she won’t get in touch with her old friends because she doesn’t want to admit that “the girls” have gotten older.

PS
Since Florence is anti-hero, it seems to me that Fitzgerald’s loyalties were firmly with the local folk. I wonder if that has anything to do with her background. I intend to read a bit more about her now that I have the internet back.
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.
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Old 01-18-2020, 03:53 PM   #44
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The description of The Bookshop led me to expect something along the lines of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Summer People," in which a couple who have a summer cottage decide one year not to leave at summer's end; this breach in the routine turns the town against them. So I had high hopes.

But The Bookshop didn't match my expectations of reading about a town rejecting someone who steps out of the role they've assigned to her; Florence seems to be bedeviled mainly by a single malevolent person--Violet--and the residents seem to be mostly bystanders, with no particular animus toward Florence, or toward having a bookshop.

I did think there was some elegant language, but I want more than nice turns of phrase; I want a story. There wasn't much of one here; this is a book I would not have wasted ten minutes thinking about but for the fact of needing to post something about it for the book club.

I wasn't invested in Florence; she seemed nice enough, earnest but ineffectual. She had no passion for books--or for anything! Her "battle" with Violet was a complete mismatch--and yet I felt little sympathy for her as the underdog.

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.
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Old 01-18-2020, 04:17 PM   #45
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Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Southwest, USA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by issybird View Post
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.

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?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
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.
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.
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