The Bookshop: A Novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Penelope Fitzgerald is a brilliant writer; in terms of prose this book holds up with all the classics. She is very funny too - if you enjoy that dry, subtle English sense of humor you will love this novel.
I found the theme of the novel to be so much more than the book jacket indicated. This was about the pending shift from the old power structure to the new. The protagonist is perfect because she is a middle-aged woman, seemingly harmless, but she has the courage and gumption to take on the establishment, in her own very adorable way. She is conscious of the danger but unwilling to yield her principals. She is the new England: the 'commoner' that becomes a business owner, dares to tackle culture, undaunted by aristocracy and its mechanisms of suppression (political, legal, nepotism, cronyism, etc.). And she makes headway. From this it is clear the power-structure is teetering on the brink of change, as a result the old machinery is in a state of panic. This is the irony - they are threatened by no more than a little bookshop.
Meanwhile, she has the sympathy of this mysterious old fellow who is also a symbol of perhaps the more benevolent, gallant side of the waning English aristocracy. Anyhow I won't say anymore except that without recognizing these larger themes the book wouldn't have been nearly as interesting as it was, so I wouldn't look at it as little more than a character study of quaint village life. I just finished 'Remains of the Day' before reading this and found many parallels.
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