Look what I found! An absolutely wonderful book about a bookshop in London during The Second World War. I know, I know, it’s WW11. It’s not like any other books of WW11 I’ve read, though. I devoured it.
The year is 1939 and Grace Bennett is finally moving to the city. She’s been living with her uncle and aunt since her mum died and she is moving on. London offers so much. And her mum’s best friend, Mrs. Weatherford, is happy to take Grace and her best friend Viv in. Mrs. Weatherford is a widow who lives alone with her adult son who works at Harrods. But when the girls arrive they don’t find the bright lights and excitement they had expected. The city is preparing for war with black outs and bunkers and it’s pretty grim.
Mrs. Weatherford helps Grace get a job at a dusty old bookshop called Primrose Hill Books, owned by a cranky old man named Mr. Evans who has allowed his shop to drop almost into ruin. Mess. Neglect. The relationship between these two is worth the price of the book. But there is so much more.
As many of you know, I’ve read a lot of WW11 books. A lot. But they do keep on coming. And some are just so darn good you have to read them. This is one of them. I did not expect to find so much detail in this novel. It is as if Martin has lived through these bombings, the rationing, the angst of the times. Nothing is missed in these pages. And I gobbled it all up. Is there a romance? Yes, but it’s far from the focus.
The story is compelling. The characters captured my heart. Of course I loved how much the books met to people during the war. There are scenes during blackouts where Grace reads to groups of people huddling in the bomb shelters that were just wonderful. The tenacity of the English people throughout the bombings is not exploited, but truly shows what humans can do when pushed to the limit. People worked throughout the day and then volunteered at night to guard the city streets.
I loved how Martin introduced the reader to the escalation of the German bombing. She began slowly, then let us know what was being rationed next. There is death and hardship in this story. How could there not be. But it’s a wonderful and powerful story of how literature can literally save lives.
A lot of the novel takes place in a real area of the city called Pastornoster Row. This was once the centre of publishing in London during WW11 and was devastated by aerial bombing in The Blitz. Many of the bookstores in the novel were actually on Pastornoser Row. One that is mentioned is Foyles and I discovered an old photo….
This wonderful gem of a book begins with a cast of characters who do not all get along. But by the end of the novel, that has evolved. And there is a cat. Of course there is.
Grace goes from someone who never reads a book to one of the most enthusiastic readers ever!!! Classics are mentioned. People are discussing books. Reading books. Reading is something that can be done when so much can not.
THE LAST BOOKSHOP IN LONDON is available in a trade paperback edition. I urge you to read it. Do yourself a favor. We do have a few copies left at Copperfish Books. We’ve sold stacks of them.
I read my copy of THE LAST BOOKSHOP IN LONDON from a library copy and had to wait weeks upon weeks for it. Totally worth the wait!