The Bookshop – The Book
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald is set in a fictional town called Harborough. The town was inspired by Southwold, where the author spent a year working in the Solebay Bookshop in the 1950s.
As one reviewer commented:
At face value, this does not seem typical material for a page-turner. An elderly and rather nondescript widow called Florence Green (“in appearance somewhat insignificant from the front view, and totally so from the back”) lives in an extremely small and isolated and very dull rural village on the Suffolk Coast of England. In 1959, she decides to open a bookshop. At one level that is all there is to the story. At another level, this is a brilliant comedy of manners, an intriguing account of how her business plans interface with the dogged attempts of fellow villagers of all social levels to exercise as much petty power as they are able, within the constraints of their social status.
Southwold is a seaside town on the north Suffolk coast. It is almost an island, being bounded by the North Sea to the East, by the River Blyth and Southwold harbour to the South–West and by Buss Creek to the North. There is only one road into and out of Southwold.
Southwold boasts a working lighthouse, a bust harbour and an award winning pier.
Full of character and history, Southwold is a quintessentially English resort town, without ‘kiss me quick’ hats.
The Bookshop – The Film
The Bookshop is a quintessentially English film based on the book. Directed by Isabel Coixet, it stars Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson.
While I haven’t read the book, I did see the film. I would not say the widow was elderly, more a pretty young woman, so it does differ from the book.
However, like the book, Florence does live in a small isolated Suffolk village, and she does open a bookshop there, despite a formidable local opponent. I did not find her struggles to be a brilliant comedy of manners. In fact, I found the film disappointing.
But try seeing it, or reading it, for yourself.
The Bookshop is available on film and book from Amazon.