Ardent and Idealistic, Esme Garland has arrived in Manhattan with a scholarship to study art history at Columbia University. When she falls in love with New York blue-blood Mitchell van Leuven, with his penchant for all things erotic, life seems to be clear sailing, until a thin blue line signals stormy times ahead. Before she has a chance to tell Mitchell about her pregnancy, he abruptly declares their sex life is as exciting as a cup of tea, and ends it all.
Stubbornly determined to master everything from Degas to diapers, Esme starts work at a small West Side bookstore to make ends meet. The Owl is a shabby all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters, such as handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke and George, the owner, who lives on spirulina shakes and idealism. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme, but will it be enough to sustain her when Mitchell, glittering with charm and danger, comes back on the scene?
The Bookstore is a celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them. The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.
I’d had my eye on this book for a while and as it’s release date loomed, I couldn’t wait to get my little page turning mitts on a copy so when I was offered the chance to review The Bookstore, I jumped at the chance. I loved the cover, the synopsis, I love Bookstores – surely this would be the perfect book for me?
Esme Garland is a Cambridge Graduate who has taken up a scholarship at Columbia University, New York. We are introduced to Esme a short way into her one year PHD. She has a few friends, is madly in love with the well-to-do Mitchell and is embracing her studies.
Shortly after, Esme discovers she’s pregnant and summons Mitchell to a “need to talk” meeting in the park. He takes this as meaning she is going to break up with him and quickly jumps in first, telling her that their sex life is bland and he wants out. Facing up to being a single Mother in a strange city, half way through a PHD, Esme takes a job at her local second-hand bookstore, The Owl.
I like Esme Garland. She is strong, independent and carving her own academic path. When faced with the prospect of bringing up a baby on her own, she figures out the best way forward and makes her own decisions on what she should do. On the flip side, she’s scared to tell her parents (I know the feeling well!), is nervous about what the future holds and struggles to fit everything into her busy schedule. Add to this the quirky hairstyle and love of books and Esme is my kind of girl! I particularly liked her struggle getting to grips with the great British/American divide.
“I saw a sign that said “No strollers on the weekend” so I zipped through all the rooms at breakneck speed …”
Mitchell, on the other hand is nothing short of unlikeable and I can’t think of a single redeeming feature. He’s rude, ignorant and vulgar and his family are found to be much the same. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so they say! Therefore the fact that Esme falls for him time and time again is pretty hard to believe, regardless of whether he’s the Father of her Child. The novel gives the impression that he has issues but we don’t get told any more about this, so it’s difficult to feel any sort of compassion for him.
Unexpectedly, my favourite element of the story was The Owl. A glorious second-hand bookstore in the depths of New York, filled with wonderful characters ranging from the slightly self-involved and mildly eccentric owner, George to his marvellous assistants including paid staff, homeless people and a dog, as well as a host of regular customers, each with their own defining features. They become like a second family to Esme, and the bookstore like a second home. The night Manager, Luke, turns out to be the novel hero we’ve been waiting for following the disappointment of Main Man Mitchell. Talented, caring and attentive – he’s the perfect friend for a single, pregnant female in a strange city.
Meyler paints a wonderful picture of New York. I’ve always wanted to visit and my desire to do so is stronger for having read The Bookstore. She appears to have dedicated her details to describing the city and to artistic and literary references throughout the book. These references are many and frequent, to artists and writers that have walked the streets before Esme. I’m an avid reader, but I don’t have a Cambridge degree like Esme nor have I ran a bookstore for several decades like George and I therefore did not “get” the majority of references made, nor have much of an interest in them.
The story also felt like it was leading up to a big finale but the ending crept up on me quite abruptly and it all seemed a little rushed. This is a well written debut that held great potential for me but has left me feeling a little disappointed.
My rating: 3/5 – A well written debut, which brings with it great descriptions and numerous references but in turn, lacks a certain charm and suffers from a hasty ending. The relationship between Esme and Mitchell is not entirely believable, given as Mitchell is written to be the lowest of the low whilst Esme is depicted as a worthy heroine. Although I enjoyed reading this book, I found myself uninterested when reading about artists and writers obviously intended for a greater academic mind than my own.
* I was provided with a copy of The Bookstore by Bloomsbury Reader. I have not been paid for my review and all opinions are my own.