20 August 2013

The Bookstore

Summary from Goodreads:

A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.

After reading and loving The Bookman’s Tale (review) I was quite interested in reading a love story set in a bookstore. This starts out very promising, with Esme getting ditched by her a-hole blue-blood boyfriend Mitchell and in need of a part-time job with someone willing to work with the fact that she is a) not a US citizen and on a student visa and b) pregnant. The Owl is a goofy, quirky, only-in-New York sort of store, a cross between The Shop Around the Corner and The Strand. And then Mitchell comes back on the scene….

I wanted to like The Bookstore more than I did. Esme has pluck. She’s very sweet and kind, if na├»ve. But what she doesn’t have is gumption. How many of you have seen The Holiday with Kate Winslet? Iris from The Holiday is Esme in this book except Esme doesn’t have an adorable neighbor played by Eli Wallach to make her watch a whole load of great Hollywood films and grow a spine. Esme has the odd cast of characters at The Owl, many with very sad stories, who don’t even recommend/force her to read some good books to read on top of her (seemingly non-existent but it must exist since she’s in grad school) art history reading. She does, however, have the emotionally abusive and distant boyfriend who hangs around way too long, railroads her into an engagement, and introduces her to his family who are so fanatically blue-blooded and snobby they might be crazier than a bag of feral cats. Even though Esme puts her foot down with Mitchell’s father, she never gets the chance to give Mitchell the old heave-ho because he ditches her again so we, as readers, have no pay-off to seeing Mitchell disappear. We just get a mopey, weepy Esme (who admittedly goes through a medical scare) with only a teeny spine who somehow manages to stay in grad school although we don’t see her go to school often and doesn’t really develop a relationship with the character who is quite obviously meant to be her real love interest (from the moment he was introduced – it was like he had a great, big flashing arrow over his head) until the very end.

A book with a lot of promise but I wished for a stronger heroine.

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