A necessary commodity

© C A Lovegrove

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Preface by Hermione Lee,
introduction by David Nicholls, 2013.
4th Estate 2018 (1978).

“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

John Milton, ‘Areopagitica’

It is 1959, and Florence Green is minded to open a bookshop in Hardborough, a town on the Suffolk coast. She finds vacant premises for sale, a building of some antiquity but unloved and neglected, and proceeds to buy it with financial assistance from the bank.

However, as the adage goes, though you can lead a horse to water you can’t make it drink, and Hardborough proves resistant to her well-meant plans. In particular Mrs Gamart, who reigns among the town’s upper echelons, decides she wants the premises for an arts centre.

Florence, a war widow who wants to give people the benefit of the doubt, at first seems amenable to giving up ownership; but when she realises Mrs Gamart is trying to preempt what is Florence’s own decision she digs her heels in and sets up shop. Has she misjudged Mrs Gamart’s steely determination, along with where the town’s sympathies may lie?

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