The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan (2017)

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny ColganNina Redmond is a 29-year-old librarian in Birmingham – she has watched life pass by over the top edge of whatever book she is reading. And she is always reading. Her raison d’être is to find the right book for each person at the very moment they need it, and she’s super good at this. So when her library closes and she loses her job, she is devastated. Only two staff members will be re-hired as “knowledge facilitators” at the multimedia hub the city is opening in town, and though she interviews for it, she’s clearly not going to get the job. Librarians, she realizes, are going the way of typewriter repairers. “She felt, at twenty-nine, oddly surplus to life’s requirements.” But at a workshop offered by the library for the reeling staff, Nina finds the courage to voice her dream of opening a bookshop. Given her limited resources, she decides to buy a used van and make it mobile. She finds the perfect old van in the Scottish highlands, and off our heroine goes. The first three-quarters of the book are genuinely lovely. Our mousy protagonist makes her way north, stubbornly insists on taking the van for a drive, and eventually buys the thing, packs it with perfectly good library discards that aren’t needed in a media hub, and though the path is a rocky one, Nina starts realizing her dream. Originally published in the U.K. under the (better) title The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After, the book is chock-full of interesting characters who add depth and complexity to a relatively simple and predictable plot. There’s a romantic, poetry-loving train conductor and a grumpy landlord in the midst of a divorce, old men at the pub, and brawny kilt-wearing farmers. There is also a sullen teenager with a pesky younger brother, a harried mother, and an overworked store owner. The dialogue is natural and authentic, and the fictional Highland setting of Kirrinfief is beautifully portrayed. I do wish Colgan had a stronger editor – she relies far too much on adverbs (angrily, threateningly, appreciatively, guiltily, nervously, instantly) to foster emotions. And I suppose it’s churlish of me to complain about the romance when this IS a romance, but honestly – four days of sex with a man whose first name you don’t know? Four days of apparently ignoring your job when you have no other income? And what about the folly of buying a giant van to drive on those itty-bitty Scottish roads? The cost of petrol? How about a business plan? Oh, well – look past these quibbles and you’ll find the ideal escapist choice for a snowy winter’s day. The right book for the right time of year.
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