The Lost bookshop
The thing about books,’ she said ‘is that they help you to imagine a life bigger and better than you could ever dream of.’
On a quiet street in Dublin, a lost bookshop is waiting to be found…
For too long, Opaline, Martha and Henry have been the side characters in their own lives.
But when a vanishing bookshop casts its spell, these three unsuspecting strangers will discover that their own stories are every bit as extraordinary as the ones found in the pages of their beloved books. And by unlocking the secrets of the shelves, they find themselves transported to a world of wonder… where nothing is as it seems.
The Lost Bookshop is a story set in two different time periods and is told from the perspective of three different people. In the 1920s, a horrified Opaline runs away when she learns her brother has arranged a marriage for her with a man she does not love. Arriving in Paris with no idea how she is going to support herself, she manages to get a job at the famous Shakespeare and Company book shop and is taken under the wing of Sylvia Beach. Opaline is soon rubbing shoulders with famous authors and falls in love with Armand, a book dealer, despite the fact she doesn’t completely trust him.
Opaline longs to have her own book shop one day and has a mysterious affinity with books to the extent she can hear them breathing. She also has a burning ambition to find the lost manuscript to Emily Bronte’s fabled second book knowing its discovery will make her name and also make her financially independent. However, just as things seem to be going well, her brother tracks her down and she flees to Ireland with an address given to her by the author James Joyce. When Opaline arrives there, she discovers Joyce’s friend has died but persuades his son to let her have the shop. At first Opaline fancifully believes the shop resents her presence but as time goes on things settle and she thinks the shop has a magic of its own.
Opaline finally manages to track down Emily Bronte’s lost manuscript, however she is betrayed when she comes across Armand in London at a book auction. Returning to Ireland, Opaline feels a sense of dread permeating the shop which prompts her to hand over the manuscript to someone she trusts for safe keeping. It proves to be just in time as Opaline’s brother has found her again and she is committed to an asylum for the next twenty years.
In the present day, Martha escapes her abusive husband to work as a live-in housekeeper to the mysterious Madame Bowden, a former actress, who lives on Ha’penny Lane. Martha soon meets Henry, a young graduate who is looking for a book shop which should be next door to Madame Bowden’s house but seems to have completely disappeared. Henry is looking for a manuscript to complete his PhD and Martha is soon caught up in the search. Mysterious things begin to happen in the basement of the house as cracks appear in the walls and branches begin to protrude. Shelves with books suddenly appear as if they are trying to tempting Martha to read them but she has an aversion to reading even though she desperately wants to do a course in literature. Again, we are given no explanation as to why reading has become so traumatic for Martha.
After a series of misunderstandings, Henry and Martha find their way back to each other and as their relationship blossoms, the secrets of Madame Bowden’s house slowly reveal themselves but the woman herself disappears. However, Martha soon learns everything is not as it seems and she has a connection to the book shop, as well as to Opaline, which astounds her. As Martha learns the truth, she realises her long buried ability to read the thoughts of others has reawakened.
The premise of The Lost Bookshop seemed like a promising one but the story really didn’t live up to expectations which is a great pity. The magical aspects attributed to the book shop are never fully explained, and while I loved the idea of it being a safe haven where the books you need to solve your issues suddenly fall off the shelves at your feet, things are a bit too inconsistent. There is no real explanation as to why the book shop is hiding itself in the present time and why it reveals itself to some people before hiding again. Opaline’s’ story just seems to come to a close as she finds her soul mate and they presumably live happily ever after, however a lot of questions remain unanswered.
In the same way, Martha has a gift for reading people which she has come to mistrust because she was blinded to the true nature of her abusive husband. One person she cannot read though is Madame Bowden and Martha assumes it is because the woman was an actress and her multiple roles linger over her somehow. Despite their differences, Martha and Madame Bowden bond with each other to the extent the elderly actress thinks nothing about meddling into Martha’s private life. When Martha’s abusive husband arrives at the house, he mysteriously falls down a flight of stairs and Madame Bowden sends Martha to the shops so she had an alibi. Martha returns to the house to find his body has gone and the police later tell her he was pulled from the river. None of this actually makes much sense – neither does Madame Bowden’s eventual disappearance.
While Martha and Opaline are obvious narrators, the third viewpoint comes from Henry but his narrative seems superfluous and it adds nothing much to the story other than to introduce the notion of the missing book shop. When Henry meets Martha his research isn’t going well but Martha seems to have no trouble finding things when she looks at them from the female perspective. Henry doesn’t seem to be very good at research though as even the most obvious things seem to have escaped his attention. The romance between them is hardly a grand passion and there are times when you just want to knock their heads together.
There are a lot of themes running throughout the book but most of them are introduced during Opaline’s chapters as she tries to take control over her own life during a time when women were thought of as male property. Opaline almost succeeds to live independently but she places her trust in the wrong people. The subject of war is also touched upon as Opaline’s brother was badly wounded in the First World War but he is accused of having needlessly shot many of his men for desertion. Even the plight of unmarried mothers in Ireland crops up when Opaline is committed against her will to an asylum but it seems out of place. There are more twists and turns as the story reaches its conclusion but everything just seems to fizzle out.