The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald #NovNov22 #NovNov2022

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Book blurb

From the Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Offshore’, ‘The Blue Flower’ and ‘Innocence’ comes this Booker Prize-shortlisted story of books and busybodies in East Anglia.

This, Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is set in a small East Anglian coastal town, where Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. ‘She had a kind heart, but that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.’

Hardborough becomes a battleground, as small towns so easily do. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. This is a story for anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.

My thoughts

Florence Green wished to open a bookstore so having no children and now widowed she uses what money she has and makes her dream come true. She buys the Old House which is over 500 years old, has been vacant for years and is rumoured to be haunted by a poltergeist.

There is a supernatural element to the storyline in which Florence is pestered by a poltergeist (or “rapper” as it’s known locally) but this element of the book whilst interesting never properly manifests itself or materialises into anything particularly pertinent.

Even though Florence has worked in a bookshop in London she doesn’t come across as a particularly good business person. She understands the mechanics of running a bookshop having worked in one but is very lacking in the area of accounts even though she has a local woman check them over on a regular basis. Florence seems to see owning the bookshop as not ‘just’ a service, which of course it is, but a vocation than the business adventure that it should be. She knows best practices but is more than willing to overlook what might be the best business decision because after all this is her dream and there is no one else in her life who would suffer if things went awry.

Florence uses the local scouts to help sort the bookshop shelves, brings in a local girl, Charlotte, to help after school. Local builders to pull down an out building. The business goes along quite well for a year or so what with the lending library set up and the summer tourists. Florence has a loyal supporter in Mr Brundish a somewhat reclusive gentleman who admires Florence’s determination.

But as so often happens in life there are those who feel they are above everyone else and should be treated with a respect not necessarily earned. Once such is Mrs Garnet, the local village ‘matriarch’ (or so she thinks) is bent upon making the Old House into a local arts centre.

Mrs Garnet takes a real dislike to Florence when her ‘subtle’ request of considering an alternate venue is rejected. After all Florence owns the Old House running her bookshop and living there. Mrs Garnet has connections and is more than willing to use them in quite underhand ways to get what she wants.

What transpires is a look at local village, small town politics and a kind of comedy of manners. I enjoyed this story even with the sense of inevitability of what is likely to happen. As the inevitability looms large a near great escape takes place but the reader, or at least me, is dealt a very sad further blow.

Penelope Fitzgerald delivers a well written novella which quietly, subtly and with humour gives a wonderful and poignant view of the best and worst of human nature.

Rebecca of Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746Books are co-hosting Novellas in November as a month-long challenge with four weekly prompts.

They will both put up an opening post on 1 November where you can leave your links throughout the month, to be rounded up on the 30th, and they are taking turns introducing a theme each Tuesday.

1 – 7 November: Short Classics (Rebecca

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

15 – 21 November: Short Non-Fiction (Rebecca)

God & Caesar (personal reflections on Politics and Religion) by Shirley Williams

8 – 14 November: Novellas in Translation (Cathy)

Under the Snow by Kirstin Ekman (Trans. Joan Tate)

Foster by Claire Keegan, which is the Buddy read and can be read at any point during the month, I hope to have read this in week 2 or 3; 

22 – 28 November: Contemporary Novellas (Cathy)

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald | The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, | Every Trick in the Book by Iain Hood | The Hermit by Louise Walters.

29/30 November: My Month in Novellas/ New to my TBR

(It is suggested that 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 as a definition of “contemporary.”)


Published: This Fourth Estate (HarperCollins) ebook edition published 2018 with an Introduction by David Nicholls 2013 and Preface by Hermione Lee 2013. 156 pages

First published in Great Britain by Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd 1978
First published in paperback by Flamingo in 1989, 2002
Previously published in paperback by Harper Perennial 2006; 4th Estate in 2014

Buy: HarperCollins | Hive |AmazonSmileUK | (affiliate link)

‘Of all the novelists in English of the last century, she has the most unarguable claim on greatness.’ Philip Hensher, Spectator

Author: Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She was the author of nine novels, three of which – The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels – were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. And she won the prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her most recent novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the ‘Book of the Year’. It won America’s National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and this helped introduce her to a wider international readership. A superb biographer and critic, Penelope Fitzgerald was also the author of lives of the artist Edward Burne-Jones (her first book), the poet Charlotte Mew and The Knox Brothers – a study of her remarkable father Edmund Knox, editor of Punch, and his equally remarkable brothers. Penelope Fitzgerald did not embark on her literary career until the age of sixty. After graduating from Somerville College, Oxford, she worked at the BBC during the war, edited a literary journal, ran a bookshop and taught at various schools, including a theatrical school; her early novels drew upon many of these experiences. She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty-three.




The Golden Child | Offshore | Human Voices | At Freddie’s | Innocence | The Beginning of Spring | The Gate of Angels | The Blue Flower | The Means of Escape


Edward Burne-Jones | The Knox Brothers | Charlotte Mew and her Friends | A House of Air: Selected Writings | So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald

3 Comments on “The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald #NovNov22 #NovNov2022

  1. Pingback: #NOVNOV22 Roundup #NOVNOV2022 My Month in Novellas/ New to my TBR – Love Books, Read Books

  2. Pingback: It’s Novellas in November time – add your links here! #NovNov22


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