The Bookshop

  • This week a guest blog from my wife Maria about a gem of a film entitled, The Bookshop

The film The Bookshop, upon a second and third viewing, has brought to light some details that I hadn’t noticed before, based on the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Our main character, a widow Mrs. Florence Green, arrives in a nondescript small seaside town in the late-fifties to open a bookshop. In a tug of war with the local banker and solicitor our heroine finds the courage to bunk all the hints to give up on her dream of opening a bookshop in an abandoned home in which she will live and work.

The film gives small clues throughout, like a murder mystery: You might say Hitchcockian, or a family favorite The Wicker Man, (the 1970’s version with Christopher Lee). The locals play a role in aiding the town matriarch (bully) Violet Gamart in order to steer Mrs. Green in a new direction and ultimate failure of the business.

Violet believes the village requires an arts center that will have lectures in the winter and concerts the rest of the year. Violet believes the ideal location should be in the home that will house the bookshop and she uses politics, law, and her wealth in order to control the village whose citizens don’t know any better. She effectively uses the illusory truth effect, a phenomenon in which a listener primarily comes to believe something because it has been repeated so often. Sound familiar? The best example occurs at an exclusive party hosted by Violet in which she and her husband are circulating amongst guests and repetitively suggesting the arts center cause.

Our heroine would like to sell Lolita in her book shop at the height of Lolita’s success and controversy. Mrs. Green seeks the advice of the town recluse and first customer, Edmund Brundish, on whether she should sell the book in her shop. Mrs. Green would like to order 250 copies which seems may either make or break her shop.

Mrs. Green hires a village girl, Christine, who works in her shop as an assistant, who emphasizes the fact that she is not interested in reading. Our heroine maneuvers Christine into reading a book, making a bargain with her that if Christine reads one book in her life, A High Wind in Jamaica, she will receive a black lacquered tray that she admires. Upon my research, the content in the novel A High Wind in Jamaica, which is replete with themes of piracy, murder, and sex, doesn’t seem to be appropriate for a ten year old. Nevertheless, High Wind is on a list of the top one hundred books to read; moreover, it heralds a theme of brave witnessing from unlikely sources.

There are clever references to novels that avid book readers may recognize. Milo North, a prowling ally of Violet Gamart, seems to represent a character from Lolita, and therefore hebephelia, when he encounters Christine while substituting for Mrs. Green as manager of the shop one day. There are hints that Christine has read A High Wind in Jamaica, so she confronts Milo by suggesting that she is aware of the actions the town is taking against Mrs. Green. Milo responds strangely and refers to Christine as a child then as a woman, reflecting the Lolita subtext. Milo even takes on a wolfish persona when he first meets Mrs. Green, in her ” Little Red Riding Hood” dress, in which she stands out at Violet’s party. The granny cottage Milo lives in on the Gamarts property takes on this brothers Grimm quality; Lolita echoing “Little Red Riding Hood”.

There is an overall theme of standing up to authority in response to censorship as well as subtler coercions that often escape notice: this includes repressing the education of a community by denying access to literature–this is also a reference and nod to Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451.  It’s a message that should never be forgotten. Christine takes things into her own hand by setting the bookstore on fire as a protest against the usurping of the shop by the villainous Violet Gamart. Destitute, Mrs. Green is forced to leave the town. In the end, holding the copy of A High Wind in Jamaica, and out of breadth, Christine manages to get to the dock to say goodbye just as Mrs. Green’s boat is pulling away.

“You’re so kind Mrs. Green. You’re so bloody kind.”

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