Dominic Green Dominic Green

Any storm in a port: The Bookshop reviewed

Reports of the death of bookstores are fiction. In 1931, there were about 4,000 bookstores in the United States. Almost all of them were gift stores, selling a limited stock of paperbacks. Only about 500 of them were specialist bookstores, and almost all of them were in major cities. True, between 1995 and 2000, the number of independent bookstores collapsed by 40 per cent. Amazon opened for business in 1994, but two other factors were big-city gentrification, and the expansion of mediocre chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, which went public in 1995.

Now, the big chains are gone — and who, apart from a homeless person looking for a day bed, will miss them? — and independent bookstores are booming. The American Booksellers Association says that its membership has increased 40 per cent since 2009, to 2,391. And the rise of big-city rents makes it more likely that if you live in a smaller city, you might be near a bookstore.

In ‘The Ignorance of the Learned’ (1821), Hazlitt wrote that we use books less as ‘spectacles to look at nature’, than as ‘blinds to keep out its strong light and shifting scenery’. The Bookshop, directed by Isabel Coixet of Catalonia, is about that mole-like impulse to burrow away from the world, and how the world still forces us to see ugly spectacles of human nature. Adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel of 1978, this is a minor-key pleasure, beautifully paced, skillfully acted, and thoroughly sad.

In 1959, the war widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) opens a bookstore in Old House, a damp and empty house in the coastal town of Hardborough. The townspeople have the sense not to bother with reading. ‘Books leave me exhausted,’ a fisherman admits cheerfully. ‘Real life’s enough for me.’

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in