13 January 2021

Evil and art

Fitzgerald, Penelope. The Bookshop. Mariner Books, 2015.

David Nicholls warned me, in his introduction to The Bookshop, about the devastation awaiting at the end. I seek sad stories because of the catharsis they can bring; because, as many before me have noted, in fiction your pain is manageable. Therefore Nicholls, in his eloquence, convinced me, even made me excited to read on.

I felt none of the emotions above after finishing the book. Rather, I was angry. The villains weren't villains, yet neither were they ambiguous characters. No, they were normal. With no deep motivations for their cruelty, no mental illness or an abusive family. They were just being themselves.

Florence Green was "simply a woman, no longer young, who [wanted] to keep a bookshop". She found the Old House that no one seemed to care about and thought that that was a good enough place to do business. Then there was Mrs Gamart, who, after learning about Florence's plans, was suddenly keen on creating an arts center in that very spot.

Mrs Gamart reminds me of billionaires who love charity not because they are generous but because of what they gain out of it. She is also a reminder that art and nobleness have no logical connection.

It's not like you can accuse Florence of not fighting because she did fight. But alas, what chance did she have against the most influential of the influentials.

Well, she did have a powerful ally in Mr Brundish. Unfortunately, he died.

What is truly hair-raising for me is that author Penelope Fitzgerald didn't write Mrs Gamart as this malicious manipulator. She rarely made an appearance. That's the face of evil itself: invisible. We didn't see her mastermind the demise of Florence's bookshop. The biggest blow she dealt to Florence, we learned about in another character's passing statement.

Adding salt to the wound, Florence would never know the truth about her champion, Mr Brundish, no thanks to a lie by Mrs Gamart. Aside from losing her bookshop, she will spend the rest of her days belieiving that even Mr Brundish finally accepted the idea of an arts center.

Some underlined bits

Between themselves they could arrange many matters, though what they arranged was quite often a matter of chance. (p 29)

Her courage, after all, was only a determination to survive. (p 109)

It was defeat, but defeat is less unwelcome if you are tired. (p 151)

If you're not strong, I do not recommend that you read this book.

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