Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Bermondsey Bookshop

Title:  The Bermondsey Bookshop
Author:  Mary Gibson
Publication Information:  Head of Zeus. 2020. 448 pages.
ISBN:  1788542649 / 978-1788542647

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Oi, Noss Goss!"

Favorite Quote:  "Words are cheap ... It's what people do that matters. If he's cruel to you, then no matter what he says, he don't love you." 

How disappointing the a book with a bookshop name as the title has very little to do with the shop or with books! Bermondsey is an area in Southeast London. Bermondsey has been home to factories producing tin boxes as featured in this book. Based on certain historical websites, there was once a Bermondsey Bookshop. Since the 1970s, much of the area has been designated a conservation area.

Although this story was not really about the bookshop, I did appreciate the introduction and enjoyed learning about the bookshop through some research. The Bermondsey Bookshop, established by Ethel Gutman, was in business from 1921 until 1930. Its purpose was to bring books to an audience - the working class of Bermondsey - who had no other access to books or the arts. The shop offered books for sale and also to borrow for a subscription fee. Individuals were encouraged to come and at read as  long as they wanted in the shop for no fee at all. The shop also hosted programs, lectures, and its own newsletter.

I wish the shop had been more than just the background of the story. Nevertheless, now on to the story of this book...

Kate Goss grows up on the wrong side of the tracks in Bermondsey. What she knows is that her mother died of a fall when she was little, her father is off seeking his fortune, and she is left in the care of her aunt. Kate is somewhat the Cinderella of the house - she lives in a garret, can do nothing right, and is mistreated by her aunt and her two cousins. By the time she is seventeen, "life had taught her the precious lesson of how to hide and disappear and stay out of people's way." Her only dream is that one day her father will return and whisk her away to a different life.

Kate has a job at the tin factory and a place to stay at her aunt's house. An incident results in her aunt throwing her out. Desperation and the need for money to survive brings Kate to the bookshop as a cleaner. Here, she meets new friends and an old crush from the neighborhood. There is talk of meetings and worker rights and a new community for Kate. This community, although interesting, is not exactly what the book is about either.

A chance meeting at the bookshop leads Kate right back to her past. She discovers that nothing is as it seems an that dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. Throughout it all, Kate learns to use her voice not only for herself but also to help others. "She'd learned the folly of pinning her hopes on someone else to giver her a better life, but she'd also learned her own power." That voice is the strength of the book even when the story takes a decidedly melodramatic turn. Read the book to find out where the drama in this book leads. The end of the romance I saw coming; the end of the drama I did not.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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