The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Some books are meant to be savoured a few pages at a time. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is one of those. With her sparse unadorned prose and economy of words, it reminded me of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I find it hard to believe that this was her second novel but it isn’t hard to believe that it was shortlisted for the Booker. She started writing after 60 and quickly became one of the forces to be reckoned with in British literature. It is one of the few books where I don’t mind having seen the film (brilliantly adapted by Isabel Coixet) first because it was true to the book, and left quite an impression on me.

When I got the book I was disappointed to see the shape the book was in. What did I expect of a copy that’s as old as me and was published in 1978! But instead of returning it, I started reading it that day itself, trying to read it at the slowest possible speed so as to absorb every little detail, every turn of the phrase. I could afford to do that because I had already seen the film, otherwise the book is quite compelling.

Florence is a widow, who plans to open a bookshop with the little money her husband left her, but the locals aren’t keen on it, particularly a high society woman (for the lack of a better word), Mrs Gamart, who wants to open an arts centre in the same place.

We all have that one bookshop in our city where we bought our books growing up, one which has stood the test of time. The place becomes a landmark and holds countless memories because of how it is linked to our formative years. Florence intends to build such a place in the hostile little town she resides in.

It is not a cheerful book but hard-hitting and incisive. It is about a community of people who are resistant to change. It is also about the nature of business and what goes on behind the scenes. Reading about arranging books and the working of the library made me feel a strange wistfulness which quickly gave way to relief. For those for you who have always wanted to open a bookshop or a library, The Bookshop would serve as a real eye-opener.

Understated, loud, quietly menacing, cowardly – all her characters are distinct, and in a slim volume without much background information we still get to know what these characters stand for. At the same time they remain an enigma and you can’t quite grasp why they do the things they do. The book is a masterclass in writing (of show not tell should be her middle name) and one, which will throw up new things on each reading.

Spoilers ahead.

Florence fends for herself and doesn’t play the part of a hapless widow, and that perhaps offends some people more than others. More importantly, she thinks she can do it all on her own because her intentions are good (ha!). Her outsider status adds to her woes. The question here isn’t how much time one has spent in a place but how well one integrates in to the community. To survive is a tricky business as it is.

It’s a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it I don’t intend to retreat.

Florence appoints bossy Christine as her assistant; a 10 year old who speaks her mind (she more or less hires herself). Christine is outspoken and likes to do things her way. The third child in a household she learns from an early age to fend for herself. She gives the book some much needed comic relief by the way she sees life.

How Christine’s life changes due to working for Florence, and the direction her life took we can’t exactly say, but all deep associations change us, especially with people who are markedly different from us.

The two of them during the past months, had not been without their effect on one another. If Florence was more resilient, Christine had grown more sensitive.

Continue reading “The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald”

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“Everything you can imagine is real.” ― Pablo Picasso

Of course it is happening inside your head,  Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Why the compulsion to share and form connections?
Why the hunger to be cared for?
Why the urge to love and be loved in return?
Why the need to understand the chaotic world and the people in it?
Why the urgency to be understood and be known exactly for who you are on the inside?
Why does life present to you on a silver platter the things you do not want or have never wanted?
Why the need to find answers when we know it’s all an illusion?

So many questions and no easy answers. In the grand scheme of things do the whys matter at all? They do. Every why matters because in seeking answers, we come one step closer to the truth and it’s something greater than we can comprehend and it will dawn on us when we are ready.

Dreaming all the time

“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” 
 What a bad dream I had last night. Probably the worst thing I have ever seen or will ever see.I woke up with a jolt and realized that it’s alright, it’s just a dream. It was a wake up call,both literally and figuratively. Everything that I could ever want and the all people I could ever love are right here in my life. This is the life that I had dreamt of. I had on rose tinted glasses so thick that I didn’t realize that it was real life and not a dream. It’s as if I was drugged and oblivious to my own life. As if I had  been looking from the sidelines waiting for something better to happen and someone better to come along, never realizing that this is the only life I have got and I have to make it count. In this lifetime not the next.
I’m an old soul and a weary one at that. Always have been. I wonder where has all the time gone and is this how my entire life is going to pass by, without me actually living it (for most part). For better or worse I still have the ability to laugh at myself and I believe it’s an important thing. It allows me to survive without drowning in gloom and wallowing in self pity. Time to buck up and go to the department or I will be late and will be made to stand outside the class!!

The present is everything it could be and more if I give it a chance. The message from all quarters is clear-just live.

Have a soulful Saturday folks !