Roses over a Cottage Door said that she mixes up her Penelopes -- Fitzgerald and Lively -- and so did I.} I was very happy to see it chosen by Karen at Cornflower Books as her reading group book for January, because it meant that I'd finally read it, and as it turned out, short, funny, and moving was the perfect recipe for the past two weeks.
'Now, Mrs. Green, if you'd catch hold of the tongue, I wouldn't ask anybody, but I know you don't frighten.'Florence Green is a middle-aged widow who buys The Old House in the seaside town of Hardborough with the steely determination to open a bookshop, against the advice or objections of everyone from her bank manager to the lady of the manor, who wants her building for an arts center. On the other hand, she's supported by Mr. Raven, the above-quoted marshman, and Mr. Brundish, an eccentric recluse who becomes her strongest ally.
'How do you know?' she asked.
'They're saying that you're about to open a bookshop. That shows you're ready to chance some unlikely things.'
Whether it's Miss Read, or Barbara Pym, or Trollope, or Angela Thirkell, or Elizabeth Gaskell, I'm very often drawn to these English-villagers-at-arms novels. There's wonderful (if blacker) humor in Penelope Fitzgerald's characters and scenes (I especially liked the days when the lending library opens). But then there were twists, and things that didn't come together until the end, and a sudden shift in the mood and tone of the story. There's a wrenching that comes when you start with quirky and feisty and end up somewhere else, and that's the sign of a very good novelist and a very well-crafted novel.
It's been a pleasure to read this along with so many other people. Like Dovegreyreader, I think this is a book I will reread, and soon. Lyn (at I Prefer Reading) found a very interesting article by Hermione Lee, who is writing a biography of Penelope Fitzgerald.
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