In 1959, Florence Green, a widow living in the seaside village of Hardborough, East Suffolk, decides to open a new (and the only) bookshop in town to fulfill her duty “to make it clear to herself, and possibly to others, that she existed in her own right.”
Calling upon her youthful experience as a bookstore clerk and using the small amount of money her husband has left her, poor Florence faces many obstacles in her new enterprise. These range from the practical- damp, storage, stock choices-to the the personal- Mr. Keble the bank manager, Mr. Thornton the solicitor, Mrs. Gamart the self-styled patroness- and the paranormal- a persistant poltergeist. However, Florence also has her allies- the local squire Mr Brundish, her able young assistant Christine Gipping and the marshman Raven- and a quiet determination to win out. Whether or not she, and the bookshop, do so is the main question of the book.
This is a short but vivid and sharply observant story which reminded me of Murial Spark in style. An example (which doesn’t give away key plot points!):
“The manager (Mr. Keble) replied soothingly that reading took up a great deal of time. ‘I only wish I had more time at my disposal. People have quite wrong ideas, you know, about the bank’s closing hours. Speaking personally, I enjoy very little leisure in the evenings. But don’t misunderstand me, I find a good book at my bedside of incalculable value. When I eventually retire I’ve no sooner read a few pages than I’m overwhelmed with sleep.’
She reflected that at this rate one good book would last the manager for more than a year. The average price of a book was twelve shillings and sixpence. She sighed.”