Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A Novel Bookstore, Laurence Cosse, Europa Editions, 2009, 416 pp

I enjoyed this book immensely while I was reading it and thought about it for days afterward, not for the writing, not for the mystery, but because of the subject matter. Two people, a rich woman and a book lover, start a bookstore in Paris. They have a distinct vision: they will only sell "good novels" from over the years by authors from many countries. By independent bookstore standards, they are wildly successful and then come the attacks.

The purported mystery concerning who is behind the attacks is not much except a sort of framework for telling the story. It does not even get satisfactorily solved. Half of the reading group in which we discussed the book were very mad about that!

The writing is just barely alright and I could not tell if the translation was to blame or the original French. I think some of both. There were an inordinate number of sentences that were odd, incomprehensible or just plain bad. That is ironic for a novel about the best written novels of the past 300 years.

In the end, none of these quibbles mattered a bit. For myself, a bookstore lover, a reading fool, a former bookseller and a novice writer, it was just plain wonderful to read about the planning, the decisions on what to carry, the ordering and stocking of the shelves, the day to day life of the store. How well I know the drama inherent in just that.

I also reveled in the characters. Francesca, the founder and owner, is a fascinating woman with a quintessential European past as well as a deep seated purpose to do something with her life that matters. Though Ivan, the manager and bookseller, is severely challenged when it comes to women and affairs of the heart, he is consistently an interesting and complex character. His love interest, Alis, is straight out of a Simone de Beauvoir novel.

Despite the clunky plotting and disastrous sentences, Laurence Cosse writes passages about the importance of literature that are as eloquent as Camus, as heartfelt as Barbara Kingsolver. This book is a tribute to books, writers, and bookstores while sounding a warning to civilization about what we stand to lose if we let literature be determined only by the bottom line.

She raises all the current issues and questions about the state of literature today. By the end of our reading group discussion, we had delved into all of them.

(A Novel Bookstore is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. This sounds really wonderful - I love the subject and the plot.

  2. Thanks Willa. Do you read French? Perhaps you could read it in French and let me know how the writing is. I was just pretty sure the translation to English was faulty or lacking somehow.
    I finally visited your blog and it is WONDERFUL!! I learned about books I hadn't heard of before. Being a great fan of Pippi Longstocking, I was thrilled to learn about Ronia. That is going on my list for sure.
    Best to you,