A Novel Bookstore

“One of the most fortunate purposes of literature is to bring like-minded people together and get them talking.”

Laurence Cosse

I bought A Novel Bookstore more or less by accident (because that can totally happen). As in, I was in a bookshop looking for something specific and degree-related, and found myself walking out with this instead.

Here’s why: it’s a book about the ideal bookshop. A bookshop that sells only good novels, which are chosen by a panel of authors anonymous to each other and to the world at large. We follow the bookshop’s genesis, its success, and then the sudden, unexpected backlash of hate from those who would see such a venture fail. The panel members are targeted by mysterious men who seem to know their deepest secrets and vulnerabilities, and soon this brilliant cultural venture becomes a game of life and death.

It’s translated from the French, which is perhaps an explanation for one of its major flaws: the dialogue, which occasionally feels stilted and over-formal. But I’m quite prepared to overlook that, because it’s not a book which rests overmuch on its dialogue, or even on its plot, which peters out with not a bang but a whimper. It’s more a book of the moment, a book that’s important because it exists, because it strikes a chord with any book-lover in its great love for literature:

We want necessary books, books we can read the day after a funeral, when we have no tears left from all our crying…books for those nights when no matter how exhausted we are we cannot sleep…books you can take to a brother who is so sick you no longer recognize him…We have no time to waste on insignificant books, hollow books, books that are here to please…We want books that leave nothing out: neither human tragedy nor everyday wonders, books that bring fresh air to  our lungs.

It reminded me chiefly of two authors: Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, for its almost surreal feeling of paranoia (STRANGE PEOPLE are ATTACKING a BOOKSHOP!); and Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, for the simple and occasionally naive humanity with which it proceeds. I know those are slightly weird comparisons to make, but I think it gives a good idea of what kind of a book this is: a novel of atmosphere, not necessarily a strictly realistic one, but, nevertheless, utterly charming. In short, a book for bookworms.


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