This 123-page novella about a middle-aged widow who opens a bookshop in a seaside village in England felt familiar as I read it, but I must not have been paying proper attention when I read it the first time in May of 2008. I didn’t really remember it, and I was surprised and saddened by the ending of this tragic little story of the life and death of a dream.
In 1959 Florence Green decides to open a bookshop in Hardborough. In 1960, “she sat with her head bowed in shame, because the town in which she had lived for nearly ten years had not wanted a bookshop.” The characters in this quiet story are vivid and engaging:
Florence Green, “a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance.”
Mr. Keble, the bank manager who gives Florence sage advice: “If over any given period of time the cash inflow cannot meet the cash outflow, it is safe to predict that money difficulties are not far away.”
Mr. Brundish, “a descendant of one of the most ancient Suffolk families,” who “lived as closely in his house as a badger in its sett.”
Raven, the marshman, naturalist, amateur veterinarian, and prognosticator.
Milo North, who works for the BBC, is tall, and goes through life “with singularly little effort.”
Kattie, Milo’s girlfriend, the dark girl with red stockings who comes to stay at Milo’s house only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Eleven year old Christine Gipping, the third Gipping daughter, very thin and remarkably fair, who becomes Mrs. Green’s invaluable assistant, ideal in that she has a talent for organization and never reads the books.
There are other characters, some not quite so endearing, who populate the village of Hardborough, and as Mrs. Green’s little bookshop stirs the waters, so to speak, of village life, it becomes clear that someone or something doesn’t want her to succeed. Perhaps a small bookstore is more disturbing to the status quo than would be imagined.
Raven: “They’re saying that you’re about to open a bookshop. That shows you’re ready to chance some unlikely things.”
Florence: “Why do you think a bookshop is unlikely? Don’t people want to buy books in Hardborough?”
Raven:”They’ve lost the wish for anything of a rarity. . . Now you’ll tell me, I dare say, that books oughtn’t to be a rarity.”
What do you think? How unlikely is a successful bookshop? (More unlikely nowadays than in 1960, I would think.)