23 July 2018

Short Reads Short Reviews #2: The Bookshop

The Bookshop
Penelope Fitzgerald
Houghton Mifflin, 1997 (originally published 1978)
117 pages

This novella may be short, but it paints a clear picture of the main character, Florence Green, and the little seaside town of Hardborough, England, where she lives. A widow, Florence decides to open a bookshop in that depressing backwater, which in 1959 has no fish and chips shop, no launderette, and films are shown only once a fortnight. The place seems full of dour people living dour lives. Early in the book, Mr. Raven the marshman* talks to her about the people of Hardborough, saying "They've lost the wish for anything of a rarity."


Excellent vignettes show life in a small town, as applicable to small towns everywhere as to those in England. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing at all times. Gossip is rampant, and often malicious. And the moneyed class always gets their way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this little book and its quirky characters, who acted in unexpected ways and said odd things. It has a gentle self-deprecating humor running through it, a gentleness and humor shared by Florence herself. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1978, edged out by Iris Murdoch's "The Sea, The Sea".

* marshman: Employed by landowners to tend marshland and the animals grazing there


  1. I enjoyed this one too and am looking forward to watching the upcoming film adaptation.

    1. A film version? I'm not sure it's big enough for a feature-length film. I'll have to look for it. Thanks for mentioning that!

  2. Replies
    1. Me, too! I like your podcast, BTW. Too bad Rachel didn't think much of The Bookshop. I thought the characters were very true to life for small town poeple everywhere: suspicious of outsiders, clinging to their ways and their social hierarchies.