Monday, January 30, 2012

A Novel Bookstore

Seldom have I had mixed emotions about a book to the degree that I have them about Laurence Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore.  I was initially drawn to the novel because it seemed to be a mixture of two of my favorite genres: books about books, and crime fiction.  And that is exactly what A Novel Bookstore is but, in this case, the two genres do not work particularly well together.  Perhaps that is because the dialogue is generally too stilted and otherwise unrealistic to give the crimes in question much teeth.  To my ear, these characters are more akin to something from a 1930s romantic farce than they are to 21st century France.  They just do not seem real – making me wonder whether the author intended A Novel Bookstore to be more fable than novel.

There is, however, much to like here.  Anyone who has ever spent much time in a bookstore will be drawn to the concept of a bookstore that only stocks the good stuff.  No James Patterson, Dan Brown, or Danielle Steele will be found in a bookstore like the one being designed by Ivan and Francesca.  The pair have come together to create a truly novel enterprise, one that sells only the finest world literature ever written.  They are so unconcerned about popular demand that it will take at least a year for a new book to hit their shelves – and not many of them will actually ever make it there.

The bookstore’s initial offering will be chosen by a committee of eight specially chosen people, each of whom will be asked to list their favorite 600 books.  Even with the overlap in choices, this means that more than three thousand books will be offered for sale on the bookstore’s opening day.  The store, despite generating little in the way of profit, soon attracts a loyal group of customers, some of whom browse daily and have to be reminded to leave when it is time for the store to close.  Ivan and Francesca are thrilled with what is happening, but the backlash soon begins.

Laurence Cosse
Authors and publishers that cannot find their way to A Novel Bookstore’s shelves are not at all happy about being frozen out by such a prestigious bookseller.  Attacks, both personal and otherwise, that try to make the owners look like literary snobs, begin to appear in newspapers and magazines.  That is bad enough, but the agitation is followed by threats and physical attacks against several of the committee members – a group of eight who were never identified by name even to each other.  Obviously, there is a leak somewhere.

That is the crux of the story, but what I enjoyed most were the pages devoted to designing the new bookstore and readying it for its opening.  Although many of the literary references (especially the French ones) were new to me, the whole process of choosing the best 4,000 books for the store intrigued me all the way through.  That is what kept me turning pages, and I am happy that I did.  A Novel Bookstore is any book-lover’s fantasy and, to be fair to Ms. Cossé, that might be why her characters, including the criminals, do not seem more real than they do.  It could never happen…or, could it?

Rated at: 3.5 


  1. I think you summed this up really well. The "crime story" part didn't really do it for me, but overall I enjoyed this book. You can go to the book's website and there is a list of the "best novels". Quite interesting, especially since I am not as familiar as I wish with non American/British authors.

  2. I haven't been to the website yet, Amanda. Thanks for reminding me about it. Do you have any other "books about books" to recommend?