In Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Book Shop, a woman named Florence has settled in a coastal village in 1950’s England. She’s bought an old house in which she plans to open up a small book shop. The townspeople take to her with mild curiosity and it seems she might eek out the modest success she seeks.
Unfortunately, two forces are at work against Florence. The first is the town’s wealthy matriarch who had her own plans for Florence’s building. The second is an ill-intentioned poltergeist, referred to by the locals as a ‘rapper’.
Any book that involves ghosts has me hooked right away. But The Book Shop is not exclusively a ghost story. Florence’s ambition seems well intentioned: to bring a book shop to a town that has none. The poltergeist simply underscores her predicament with the matriarch. Sometimes forces work against us for seemingly no reason, with no warning.
Despite this being a very slim book Fitzgerald creates incredibly rich characters. Her writing beautifully captures this town, the damp walks and the lingering scent of the sea air. Only characters so committed to understatement could label the shop's poltergeist, which at times is ferociously violent, a 'rapper'.