The bookshop I visited this week was entirely fictional but I was able to see it in a film. Don’t get me wrong, I visited the usual suspects, my bookshops in Canterbury, Hythe and Folkestone but you’ve already heard about them. I decided to tell you therefore about the film, The Bookshop, which we saw on Saturday night.
As you know this year I have been carrying out my bookshop challenge as well as trying to read as many books as possible and one of the books I read was “Howards End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill. This is a book about books and the first I had read of its type. I found it fascinating and as a result of it discovered a whole host of authors I had not previously come across, including Penelope Fitzgerald. Susan Hill recommends the author very highly but particularly points us towards her book “The Blue Flower”. I still haven’t read that but during the searches I have carried out of bookshops across Kent I did come across “The Bookshop” and read it in the early part of the year, attracted to the name because of my challenge.
I was taken by Penelope’s style of writing. I particularly liked that it was a short book and I loved that it was kind of a story where nothing really seemed to happen. And yet so much did of course. The main protagonist, Florence Green, is a widow of some 16 years and she has decided to move to a town to open a bookshop. We quickly learn that the lady of the town, Violet who lives in the big house, with her husband the General, and acts as a Justice of the Peace and is pretty much the boss of the town, is not happy about Florence taking over The Old House, indeed Violet wants it for an Arts Centre. At a cocktail party at Violet’s big house, frequented by all the local dignitaries, Violet tells her this, that she will be running the arts centre from The Old House and that Florence should look for other premises. Florence refuses and tells her that it is her home and that before she moved in it had been empty for 5 years. Why had she not pursued the arts centre when the house was left empty and damp? Florence leaves the party.
Despite efforts by her bank manager and her own solicitor to talk her out of it Florence opens her bookshop and is initially quite busy. Much to the chagrin of Violet who pulls out all the stops, putting the locals to work against the little shop Only really two people stand with Florence. Christine, a local school girl who helps out and Mr Brundish who is a recluse in the town and rarely sets foot outside his front door. He is a reader though and starts to make contact with Florence to order books. The communication leads him to invite her to a very awkward tea in the house where the pair commence an awkward friendship.
The book follows Florence as she deals with the effects of Violet efforts to bring down the bookshop, it is not pretty but certainly clever, if not evil. Violet is clearly not a woman to be crossed though one would not expect something as innocuous as opening a lovely bookshop to be the definition of crossing someone.
The story stayed with me over these last few months. Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) and Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy) are lovely, well formed characters and I still feel the unfairness of it all. When I saw that the film was out I excitedly made a hasty booking at the cinema.
I was not disappointed. The film is set very closely to Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel and I think if you had read it you would barely notice many differences. I persuaded my husband to go explaining that whilst it was a book where not a lot happened, that it was a book about people and small communities, there was an active Poltergeist in the house which should prove entertaining. Sadly the poltergeist must have proven too complicated as it was omitted from the film! It didn’t detract at all may I say and certainly if you haven’t read the book you wouldn’t go into a film about a bookshop and be disappointed when a poltergeist didn’t appear on screen wreaking havoc. (Unless you are married to me!)
The actors chosen to play the parts worked splendidly. The same characters appeared on screen as I had expected. Including The Bookshop which was well presented in terms of how Fitzgerald had described it. The front window of the shop, which plays an important role in the film, particularly when Florence stocks the novel Lolita, is so carefully described in the novel and I am glad that the people making this film really respected that.
This is a slow story, there are no flash bangs or murders, no sex, drugs or rock and roll. This is a story about people and communities, class and friendship. It is subtle and a bit depressing. But the acting is beautiful and the scenery is lovely. If you expect anything other than that (like a poltergeist) you may well be disappointed. But if you want to spend a few hours just watching a story unfold, understanding that not a lot happens but such a lot does, then I think you will enjoy this. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Patricia Clarkson who played the awful Violet. You will recognise Patricia if you have watched Frasier or Six Feet Under and she was in the film Learning to Drive a few years ago, working with the director of this film. Her performance in this film will leave you hating her!
I was bemused by my reading of the book and bemused when I heard they had made it into a film. But it’s impactive and thought provoking. And we thoroughly enjoyed it.