Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse

416 pages
Published in 2010 by Europa Editions
New York, NY

The Plot:
A quaint little bookshop called The Good Novel, which specializes in selling only novels that are deemed truly worthwhile pieces of literature by the owners and a secret advising committee, has opened its doors to the world from a quiet corner of Paris, France and is proving to be quite the successful enterprise... Until anonymous threats and mysterious attacks are made upon the owners, the secret committee and the store itself threatening it's very existence. (To learn more about A Novel Bookstore's plot visit Europa Editions for a full summary.)

My Thoughts:
Nearly a year ago I first stumbled upon A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse while browsing the various book blogs I subscribe too. Each review basically said the same thing: A Novel Bookstore is not only a unique read for those who love books, but it is one that should be read. I tucked it away to read at a later date. That time finally arrived this past week when, at a loss for something lighthearted to read, I randomly chose A Novel Bookstore from my library's shelves.

From the vague memory I had of the reviews I had read I thought I was picking up a modern mystery novel that involved a bookstore. A book about books, just the summer read I was looking for... And for the first few pages that's exactly what I believed I was reading. The book opens with three attacks upon members of The Good Novel's secret committee members, but as I read on I quickly realized that A Novel Bookstore is not a lighthearted who-dunit mystery, but rather a mix of drama and philosophy, with a thread or two of a love story woven in.

My only complaint with A Novel Bookstore is that while the plot is unique and exceedingly clever it does tend to plod at several points. There were several times where I felt the author got side-tracked in side stories or little details that mattered little to the story development, but I pressed on because I was curious as to the outcome of the story. Would The Good Novel survive the attacks? Who was behind them? What would become of the owners and the committee members. Of course, to make matters worse for me as I read, the author tossed around dozens and dozens of titles of good novels and authors (of good novels) that were mostly French and most of whom I'd never even heard of. I suppose this was supposed to spark in me the desire to track down these books and read them so as not to be a bibliophile who has read very few "good novels," but for me it just was a bit overwhelming. Perhaps if I'd heard of half of the authors (my fault for not being French???) I might have felt less so.

At any rate, I did find myself finishing this bittersweet story and realizing that even though it wasn't the lighthearted mystery I had expected to read, it was still a book that I had reasonably enjoyed. On more than one occasion it had caused me to stop and think.

For example, the very concept of a bookstore that only sells books that are deemed "good" by the owners (or an advising committee), is this bad? Are they pushing an elitist mindset? No, I don't think so. For anyone wishing to read something not available at such a bookstore they need only shop elsewhere. Who cares if you read a mixture of really good literature and so-so novels. If I could draw an analogy I'd say a bookstore like The Good Novel is similar to an organic food store. If a shopper is looking for a specific organic food item they might find it at a general grocery store, but they will almost certainly find it at an organic food store. That doesn't mean the general grocery store is "bad" for selling only a few organic items or that the organic food store is "best" because they don't sell any generic food items. They each have their own clientele with the occasional cross-over. Bringing it back to bookstores the same comparison could be made between a bookstore selling only "good literature" and those that sell a mixture of the good with the pulp and even a smattering of the bad. To shop at one or the other doesn't make you an elitist, its simply a matter of a consumer shopping at the store where they will best fine what they seek. And if they cannot find what they want they'll simply shop elsewhere for that item.

As I read I did stop to wonder -- if I had access to a bookstore like The Good Novel would I shop solely there? I doubt it. For me, I need to a mix in my reading -- the good and the fluffy. The classic and the best-seller. It's just the type of reader I am.

Over all, I found A Novel Bookstore to be a thought provoking read. Not a classic in and of itself, but a very clever story and one that caused me to stop and think. That's much more than I can say about most modern novels I've read of late.

Related Links:

The Good Novel
Lauren Cosse (Wiki Bio)
Europa Editions


    Marie said...

    I'm really looking forward to reading this! It looks like a good book and I love Europa Editions.

    Sarah said...

    Hmm. I hadn't heard anything about this book until this blog post. It sounds interesting, even though I'm not usually a fan of books that allude to lots of other books. I end up feeling like I can't understand all the comments in the book if I don't go read all the other works mentioned on the double. Thanks for the thorough review :)

    Sarah M. said...

    Sarah, it wasn't that they were alluding to the books in the sense of story plots or quotes. It was just mentioning authors and titles of books (in French) that I'd never heard of... I sort'a got to where I saw a word in French (Title) and skimmed over knowing that it was a book they were referring to.