If books generally are hard to resist for this book squirrel, then you can only begin to imagine how excited I get about books featuring those treasure troves called bookshops (or bookstores, if you’re from across the Atlantic). I mean, what book lover doesn’t spend a lot of their time in them, browsing, and yes, okay, buying, when they’re not wishing they just lived in one or owned one?
So, it’ll come as no great surprise that Deborah Meyler’s The Bookstore caught my eye on my one of my first forays onto NetGalley this summer. (It’s embarrassing to admit how I totally screwed up getting the review copy downloaded from the site before it was archived. But, because I do sometimes learn from my mistakes, I now have it sussed for future downloads!) However, I hadn’t just gone on the site for freebies, I’d wanted to see what titles were coming out and whether the site was something I could use in finding new reads that I might not have found elsewhere. And I knew that I wanted to read The Bookstore, so I ordered a copy.
The Bookstore tells the story of Esme Garland, a 23-year-old Englishwoman, who has only recently arrived in New York on a scholarship to study for her PhD in Art History at Columbia. She’s not running away from anything back home or looking to reinvent herself in a big city, Columbia is simply the only place that offered her funding and that’s why she’s there. Which was refreshing, even if it was also serendipitous that Columbia is the prestigious institution it is.
Right from the very beginning, Esme’s voice is what hooked me in. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her take on life and the way she looks at things. Having also lived abroad, I knew what she had to deal with and what kinds of situations that might throw up. In addition to settling into an apartment and getting to grips with her course, she’s adapting to a new city, a new culture and, to a certain extent, a new language and her observations on these are often very funny. I can see that she might be an acquired taste for some but Esme and I clicked and I got her, her wry sense of humour and her observations on life. As the story’s told from Esme’s perspective, it was pretty important that this happened. Otherwise, I could see that she might seem waspish when she’s really not.
As if all the change she’s undergoing isn’t already more than enough to cope with, Esme has to face up to an unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend of two months. Or, as it turns out, mostly without the boyfriend. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether he’s a heel, just flaky or perhaps understandably baulks at the prospect of becoming a father so early into a new relationship.) Some reviewers have questioned how such an intelligent, albeit young, woman as Esme could get herself into this situation and/or fall for someone who they consider to be wrong for her. And, all I have to say in response to those criticisms is that she’s head over heels in love, properly, madly in love, perhaps for the first time in her life, and that makes you do the craziest, stupid things, doesn’t it? No matter how book smart or intelligent you may like to think you are, you’re no smarter than anyone else when that deep in love and dazzled by the object of your affection/lust/love. As for the unplanned pregnancy, well, again, it happens, doesn’t it? It’s how Esme deals with it, not how she (and Mitchell) got into that particular mess, that drives the story. Esme has to deal with a strong dose of real life, while also wanting to hold onto her dream of finishing her PhD when it’s still so early on in her course.
One of the ways in which Esme copes is by finding a much-needed part-time job and unexpected support at The Owl, a small secondhand bookstore. The owner, George, is accommodating and considerate, co-worker Luke props her up without her really noticing and Esme finds unexpected comfort and friendship in the staff, customers and street people that all play a role in the bookstore’s daily life. I have to admit that I didn’t always keep track of who everyone was at the bookstore and had to refer back to check that it was the character I thought it was. But this was a minor niggle and didn’t slow me down enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book. I think I felt much as Esme did, in that she missed the bookstore when she wasn’t there and it was never far from her thoughts. It becomes her ‘family’ in her new home.
I thought The Bookstore was a novel with real heart. It’s a love letter to books and the people who love and surround themselves with them; it’s about the family that we collect on our travels or that collects around us, no matter who it’s made up of; it’s about how a bookstore can be at the heart of life, the community it can form; it’s about human kindness; it’s about finding your people, your tribe, if you like, but it’s also about finding your own way in life. The one that’s right for you. And it’s a story that’s told with a great deal of humour and affection.
The Bookstore is Deborah Meyler’s debut novel and is available from all good bookstores and online retailers, such as Amazon UK, Amazon US, The Book Depository and Waterstones. You can find out more information about the author from her Author Website or you could Follow Deborah on Twitter.