Updated on August 5, 2015
41. ‘A Novel Bookstore’ by Laurence Cossé
Warning: this novel will make you wish The Good Novel really existed. Honestly, it sounds like my dream shop. The Good Novel is the bookshop at the centre of this story: created by two book-lovers and voracious readers, Francesca and Van, it’s also the source of great literary controversy. The pair meet in a little bookshop in the French mountains, and decide to create a shop together that sells only good books. The stock is chosen by a carefully selected committee of writers and The Good Novel opens in Paris.
The story is mostly narrated through a framing device: Francesca and Van spend a good deal of the book recounting to a police investigator the troubles that surrounded The Good Novel’s opening. What starts out as angry articles in newspapers, asking what right the shop has to decide what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ literature, escalates to venomous messages on internet forums, and even physical threats made against the bookstore’s committee members.
There is a great deal of detail given about the creation of the bookshop: how Francesca and Van choose the committee members, the calculations they do regarding the stock (allowing for repeated selections, foreign language writers, etc), and other such practical aspects of creating the shop. In contrast, I thought the conclusion to the genuinely disturbing and more threatening aspects of the story, was brushed over too quickly. Similarly, I felt not enough time was dedicated to the love story, which sort of disappears towards the end of the novel.
I did love the central debate of the story: what makes a good novel? Is there such a thing as subjective quality? Who has the right to decide what is good? Of course, I was on the side of The Good Novel. I do feel that some books are simply good, and others bad, but I have little idea about how to go about defining this distinction beyond gut instinct (which is, after all, based in personal taste). I felt that other characters’ attempts to undermine the bookshop were the result of petty jealousy, and I wanted more than anything for the shop to succeed. I can only hope somebody will read this and actually create such a literary utopia in real life.
“He had no more imaginary space, nowhere he could escape to, no more expectations, all he could do was make himself available to the present moment, to what was immeasurable, the terrible profusion of moments that make up a day.”
I bought this one with a voucher after spending HOURS browsing through Waterstones’ fiction section. This one stood out to me because of its pretty cover, thick pages, and the blurb. A book about good books? Sold!
Incidentally, now I have loads of inspiration for other novels to read. There’s plenty of bookish name-dropping here.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?