The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

How can a book with such an interesting premise be so tedious to read?

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • The uncertainty probably kept her awake. She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.
  • She had a kind heart, though that is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.
  • But the Old House was not haunted in a touching manner. It was infested by a poltergeist which, together with the damp and an unsolved question about the drains, partly accounted for the difficulty in selling the property. The house agent was in no way legally bound to mention the poltergeist, though he perhaps alluded to it in the phrase unusual period atmosphere.
  • But courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.
  • Milo North was tall, and went through life with singularly little effort. To say ‘I know who you are, you must be Mrs Green’ represented an unaccustomed output of energy. What seemed delicacy in him was usually a way of avoiding trouble; what seemed like sympathy was the instinct to prevent trouble before it started. It was hard to see what growing older would mean to such a person. His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether. Adaptability and curiosity, he had found, did just as well.
  • The Unseen, as the girls had always called it at Müller’s, could mind its own business no better than the Seen. Neither of them would prevent her from opening a bookshop.
  • A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
  • From the point of view of the infantry, you know – the chap who just walks forward and gets shot.’
  • She would have liked to have been instrumental in passing some law which would entail that he would never be unhappy again. But perhaps he ought not really to have been in the shop at all. He was there, at the very least, on sufferance.
  • She was looking at 200 Chinese book-markers, handpainted on silk. The stork for longevity, the plum-blossom for happiness. Her weakness for beauty had betrayed her. It was inconceivable that anyone else in Hardborough should want them. But Christine was consoling: the visitors would buy them – come the summer, they didn’t know what to spend their money on.
  • It was too difficult for her to believe that he simply lapsed into whatever he did next only if it seemed to him less trouble than anything else.
  • A good book is the precious life-blood of a masterspirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.
  • But the Old House Bookshop, like a patient whose crisis is over, but who cannot regain strength, showed less encouraging returns.
  • To be accepted by this tiresome old man would be an entry into a new dimension of time and space – the past centuries of inhabited Suffolk, and its present silent and watchful existence.

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