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I enjoyed it very much, although I found it a melancholy book. I was so angry at the small-minded locals & Violet Gamert's campaign against Florence & the shop. The ending is ambiguous too, what will happen to Florence? PF doesn't do the expected. Lolita wasn't shocking because of its content but because the customers wanting to buy it blocked the pavement! The poltergeist isn't explained either. Was it really supernatural or just someone trying to frighten Florence out of the shop? Lots to ponder.

Susie Vereker

Loved this book too. Witty and very much to the point. The village and its inhabitants were wonderfully drawn. But what a sad ending. As the book was a comedy I expected happily ever after and was upset that it all ended so realistically.

Account Deleted

Like Lyn, I had some unanswered questions at the end (my main one: why Hardborough?) but I loved the writing and the setting and especially the characters. Christine is fabulous - a sprite one minute, a wise woman the next.

Full review here:

(I don't know if linking to one's own blog is the done thing in CBG - if not, forgive my impudence, please?


I read this last month and thought I'd written a blog post about it but find I never finished it and posted it, so it is still a draft. I think that may be partly because though I did like this novel, I didn't go absolutely wild about it. It is a very sweet, sad, thought-provoking book but somehow didn't set me on fire. I'll be interested to see what others say about it -- I know it's been widely read by other bloggers recently and I seem to be in a minority in not rating as highly as most others.

Mr Cornflower

Bad things happening to good people is such a staple of fiction that it can be hard to write about it with freshness and originality. I felt on the whole Fitzgerald succeeded in doing this, perhaps because of a deliberately understated, almost miniaturist approach. I very much enjoyed it and would certainly like to read more of her works.


Fine by me, Yvann!

Mrs Red

I must echo Harriet's comments. The heather was not set on fire for me! While the book has its strengths, I was left feeling rather dissatisfied overall. However, it has encouraged me to read some more of Penelope Fitzgerald's work


I thoroughly enjoyed the book - but like the others felt very sad for Florence at the end. The quiet and steely malevolence shown by Mrs. Gamart was quite chilling (more so than the rapper, who appeared to be just stroppy more than anything else). I think Violet Gamart's single mindedness was emphasised even more because you were never really and truly sure it was her behind all the blockages to the shop being a success. It was always implied but never outright admitted to.
I too would have loved to have known what Florence did next. Good book. :-)


I haven't finished the book, but I am enjoying the writing very much. It is only when one reads truly good writing that one realizes how much schlock is truly in the reading marketplace--especially so-called best sellers.


Thank you for presenting a reason to finally discover Fitzgerald's writing! The villagers drove me crazy, Christine made me laugh and those red tights of Kattie's, I can't seem to forget them! How anyone could not embrace a bookshop in their community is beyond me but what is a story without conflict?


Enjoyed the book's characters and humour and would now like to read more of Penelope Fitzgerald work. The ending did come as a surprise but I felt it made the story complete - the end of the book shop. As well as wondering what happened to Florence, I also wonder what would happen to Christine. Thank you for choosing this book which was a great start to a New Reading Year!

Dark Puss

I'd strongly recommend The Blue Flower, indeed I'm amazed Karen hasn't pushed this on to you already! Grumpy O B has a useful review of it.


Sad to say, I was very disappointed with this book.I usually enjoy Fitzgerald's writing but this didn't engage me at all. I found Violet Garmat a more interesting character and would have liked her character to have been more developed, but that probably would have been another story!

An absolute delight - charming. As it was intimated that Mrs Gamart sat on most committees and groups perhaps even Mrs Gamart was behind the 'long buff envelope' awaiting Christine, as well as everything else....!? I could smell Walberswick and Southwold.......tremendous. To all: I really do recommend Human Voices by PF - another gem.

B R Wombat

I think Lesley makes a very interesting point in comparing Mrs Gamart and the rapper, natural versus supernatural evil. Lesley's observation made me see connections between The Bookshop and Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger.

I'm afraid the anachronism about the cherry brandy did put me off. I'm an awful stickler for such things.


Like so many others, I did enjoy this book very much. It was a surprise at the end , but at least Florence had owned a bookshop for a while. I wonder how many of us have had that dream. Like Mr Cornflower , I felt a freshness about this book. A charming book.

Julie Fredericksen

I, too, loved the book but was disappointed with the ending. I was so sorry Florence lost her war, especially as she had won a few battles. Because she had won those, I thought she would win out over Mrs. Gamart in the end. As a person who has been totally under the thumb of an evil person who had a great deal of power over me, I was rooting for good to win out in this case. (My situation was a workplace situation and although I won a few skirmishes, like Florence I didn't win my war. Yes, life is not fair.)


Loved the book, and the characters. I wanted Florence to prevail but think there was better storytelling because she didn't. Thanks for suggesting we read this! It's been on my shelf for a while, unread.


Very enjoyable first read of Penelope Fitzgerald,very much a book of what if.What if Mr Brundish had not died, what if the oyster shed had not been pulled down,and what if Christine had passed her 11 plus,how life can turn.


I dont know in what way the book was written, but I felt as if the author had created the characters and a situation and then waited to see what would logically follow. So I believed in the ending, although it was sad.

It reminded me of some of HE Bates' novels (not the 'Darling Buds series!), where you feel a sense of inevitability about the plot as it unfolds.

So it was for me a book I'm happy to have read but I cant say it really caught my imagination.

Barbara MacLeod

I liked the book. For a short, easy read I think the book had a lot to say. I am sure we all have stories of how, for example, we notice that one person did not get planning permission for something or other but we find another person down the street did. We will never know the reason or reasons. While not fully developed I thought the author's idea for this story worked nicely. She worked with the various forces operating in the bigger picture and I felt the voice of experience talking here. How often have we seen people who block other people's efforts ("We are not interested in you and your bright ideas") and at the same time do nothing themselves?

Yes, I also picked up on the cherry brandy. Worse still, I found this: " 'You're to young to bother about dying' said Florence, feeling that this was expected of her." [Harper Perennial edition, 2006, p. 133]

And while we are on this subject, what about all those lawyer's letters going back and forth? We live in a litigious society nowadays; I did wonder a bit about 1959 East Anglia ....

A good choice - definitely a book for curling up in a chair by a sunny window!


That must have been miserable for you, Julie. So unfair.


I liked this book but have had to read it twice as I found unanswered questions. Why not one of the other empty shops?why was the house haunted? She had lived there a few years before deciding on the shop why Hardborough? Even her so called friends deserted her. Loved Christine's character.Her discription of the beach." I was hoping to start again" said Florence. "I thought I could".Made me cry.I would like to read more by Penelope Fitzgerald.I borrowed this from the library but I think I will have to have a copy of my own.

Susan in TX

I read this toward the end of November. We had had an exhausting Thanksgiving and we all took a day to just curl up in our corners and read, and this was my selection. It drew me in very quickly, but I, too, thought the ending was sooo sad. It almost had to end that way, though. I, like some others, would've liked a little more info on the house ghost, but overall I thought she did an amazing job in so few pages of telling a very good story. Good pick, Cornflower!

jean Reiss

I enjoyed the Bookshop just as I have enjoyed all the Penelope
Fitzgerald books that I have read. However I did wonder why she
thought the small town needed a bookshop.


This is the first book I have read by Penelope Fitzgerald and I found it to be a bittersweet story. I knew from the first page, as PF was setting the stage that Florence wasn't going to succeed with her business and I was rooting for her. It all fizzled too quickly at the end and like Lesley, I too, wanted to know what happened to Florence. It bothered me that Mrs Gamart's behaviour went unchallenged, except by Mr Brundish, even that made no difference to the outcome, Florence still lost her bookshop.


I've been 'collecting' PF's books for ages now, so thanks for urging me to finally pick one up and read it! I very much like her style--a little understated despite the general nastiness that goes on in Hardborough. I was fully expecting there to be moral outrage over Florence's selling Lolita, but had a chuckle that the lawsuit brought against her was for blocking the sidewalk--as Lyn says! I felt sorry for Florence--would have loved to know what happened to her, but at least the folks of Hardborough finally got a library...bittersweet story indeed! Thanks Cornflower.


An adorable little book and a very quick read. The references to Southwold were many; the amber found on the beach, the ferry and the beach huts. This is my part of the world and so made the reading even more enjoyable. Loved the character of Christine. My Grandad Dove used to buy me the Bunty every week, although as a five year old it was much too grown up for me!


I found this a very enjoyable book - my first of PF's, so thank you for the introduction. Although brief and quick to read, it had great universal themes. I agree about it being full of 'what ifs' - but I guess the writing was on the wall for Florence after Mr Brundish died - it was such a shame she never found out the exact nature of his visit to Mrs Gamart! I also thought the rapper was going to supply a twist in the plot - having inhabited the house for many years, it hadn't lain empty so Florence shouldn't have had to move out! I hadn't expected the seemingly sad ending, Florence was a surprisingly strong positive character full of metal and able to deal effectively with over bearing officialdom. I too was expecting good to conquer bad, right to win over wrong, so maybe Florence went on to another challenge, I do hope so!

Sarah Bussy

On the cover of my paperback copy of 'The Bookshop' is a quote from Philip Hensher in which he says that Penelope Fitzgerald has an unarguable claim on greatnesss. I'm not sure that I would go as far as that but I do think she's a superb entertainer and a writer one can enjoy re-reading over and over again.

The enjoyment she gives lies not so much in the story she's telling (although I couldn't wait to turn the pages to find out what happens next) but in her superlative prose, her descriptions, her observations on character and her awareness of the way in which a small society works. She is also extremely funny, very much in the manner of Jane Austen. As Cornflower says you could just quote and quote.

I particularly admire her economy and precision and also her evocation of landscape. I too saw Southwold and Walberswick - places I love.

About twenty years ago I read PF's 'Human Voices' which is set in the BBC during the Second World War. There was a French military chap in it, obviously modelled on General de Gaull,e whose name was Pinard. At that time I was corresponding with a French professor in Paris and so I sent a copy to him. He was absolutely entranced by it, especially as 'pinard'(so he informed me) was French for bad wine or plonk.

I must see if I've still got a copy of the book. I'd love to read it again and can recommend it to members of the group who enjoyed 'The Bookshop'.


For those who enjoyed this I just have to recommend The Golden Child - for me the humour and writing was PF outdoing even herself;-) Please don't miss it.


Thanks, Teresa, that's now on the wishlist!

adele geras

I feel very bad not to have got to this but I will. I must have a good go at PF because I've never read a single word she's written and everything I read about her makes me almost sure I will love her work. I will start acquiring her books. Esp now that I've moved to that part of the world...

Susan E

Thank goodness, this got me to finally read a book that's been on my shelf since 1998! I admire the author's economy and how she tells the story in a relatively short space. Just finished reading the Return of a Soldier by Rebecca West, a similarly short novel, and am struck by how quickly PF sets a scene, then moves to the next one. As already remarked, her humor is delightful and her observations on character deft and on target. I've started on Offshore next, because I read somewhere that PF's novels divide into two groups: the first four (including the Bookshop and Offshore) based on her own experiences, and the second four (including the wonderful The Blue Flower) based on her imagination. Glad to hear about Human Voices since I see that sitting on the shelf too. Susan E


I loved this book when I read it - although it was years and years ago now. I am a die-hard Penelope Fitzgerald fan and think she is nowhere near as famous as she deserves to be. My favourite of hers is probably The Beginning of Spring, but I have loved all the novels by her that I've read.


I loved The Bookshop even though Mrs Gamart and the treacherous Milo, both made me seethe! Such a shame that neither got their comeuppance but sadly that type of person (and I have unfortunately known a few although never in a position to do me any harm) never seems to have to face a reckoning!
I did like Florence and Christine and like a lot of commenters, I would love to have known what happened next for them both!
I recall reading Offshore many years ago and very much enjoying it and I have The Blue Flower, so I hope to return to Penelope Fitzgerald's work again in the near future.
Great choice for the book club - thank you!


I found this book maddening. Florence always seemed to reason away the still small voice that was telling her what to do in most cases. She still may have lost the shop as but I wonder what would have happened if she had listened. Florence was also very naive for her age.


I read The Bookshop over a cold, post-Thanksgiving weekend with many cups of tea, just as suggested, and it was perfect. Like so many others I too would have liked to find out what Florence did next. And other than being mean, self-centered, and used to being the big fish in a small pond, what was at the core of Violet's behavior? Just that, I guess -- jealousy. It's unfortunate that Florence didn't know what old Mr. Grumpy's comment really was regarding her bookshop.

The copy I picked up had a favorable comment from Anita Brookner on its cover about Penelope Fitzgerald's writing. This caught my eye most of all -- Brookner is one of my favorite writers, a Booker Prize winner herself for Hotel du Lac. I've read almost all her novels and recommend her highly. Insightful, often melancholy, but always enjoyable.

Simon T

I thought it was a beautiful, sad, memorable little book - one of my favourite books whichever year I read it.


Greetings from frosty Poland. :)
As my native language is not English, please forgive me any mistakes I make.
Reading "The Bookshop" was a wonderful experience and I'm grateful to Cornflower for having chosen this novel for the club.
I heard about Penelope Fitzgerald a few weeks ago. It was a blogging friend who discovered her. Then she kindly lent me the copy of "The Bookshop", which I read with a great pleasure. It was a wonderful surprise and coincidence to see it as Cornflower Book Club choice! I felt enthusiastic about it.
Unfortunately none of Fitzgerald's books has been translated to Polish yet, which is a shame.
I read all the comments above with a great interest. It's great to see that Fitzgerald's literary works seem to appeal to people from different countries and age groups.
Most of my impressions have already been expressed by you but there are a few things I'd like to share.
As I told you before, English is a foreign language to me, but I thought it's worth considering if the names are meaningful and I think they really are.
Florence GREEN is quite a naive person, although she's in her forties.
The name of the town, HARDBOROUGH, makes me think of problems and obstacles.
RAVEN is very mysterious and his intentions are not clear.
My favourite quote from the book:
" Understanding makes the mind lazy." :)
I love Fitzgerald's sense of humour, so subtle and seasoned with irony.
Despite the funny passages of "The Bookshop", it is a story about lost illusions and the sad fate of the idealist in a world of "hollow men.", about the lack of tolerance and a hostile community resentment against an individual who dares to have her own opinion. There is no physical violence in the book. Florence wass not even touched, but you could feel the menace.
"The Bookshop" is just the beginning of my adventure with the works of Penelope Fitzgerald.
As Florence stated, "A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity". In my opinion Penelope Fitzgerald's novel is a really good book.
Big thanks for reading my longish comment.


One would never know from reading your comment, Lirael, that English was not your first language! Thankyou so much for your thoughts and insights. (
Though I did notice 'Hardborough', it hadn't occurred to me that there was any significance to Florence's name, but of course there is!).


Dear Cornflower, thanks so much for your kind comment.


I thought this an elegant little book and very enjoyable, though I did wonder if the rapper was just one piece of bad luck too much? Though reading the comments by Lesley and BR Wombat, I might change my mind about that. I wanted so much to know more about it all, too - how did Florence make the house habitable when it had been described as almost derelict (something about the local children getting in though the broken windows)? And I wanted to know what would happen to her. It certainly made me want to read more PF though.

Linda Jacks

The idea of Mrs. G being behind the buff envelope is surely true. So many of the other ways she got Florence out of the bookshop are just allusions that one can miss, so why not this one. I now wonder if she got the fellow out of his fish shop.

Linda Jacks

I don't think you do win wars with people like this as they use ammunition and maneuvers people such as Florence can't even imagine. Mrs. G is a warlord and Florence refused to pay obeisance to her. Even worse, Christine rapped her on the knuckles!

Linda Jacks

Of course, Mr. B and Mrs. G were both playing with people's lives. This time he was just on the side of the "good guy". If he hadn't chosen to go behind the scenes, he might have survived.

Linda Jacks

Zoe, since this is your part of the world, can you point us to online pictures of cottages that could help us understand the bookshop's building? How could it have seawater? Was it from seepage?


I wouldn't put it past her!


I loved the Sea Scouts and their hand drills - can't quite see that nowadays!
After reading the comments above, I'm going to re-read the book. I have had to wait this long for a library copy, so a bit late to the feast.


Glad you got the book in the end, Carole. I should think a second reading would reveal a lot we may have missed on the first.

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