Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Bookstore

Author: Deborah Meyler
Genre: Modern Fiction/ARC
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess."

Book Description from GoodReadsA witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing 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.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for providing me with a complimentary Kindle e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  From the cover photo of a woman holding a stack of books (bliss!) to the short book description I knew that requesting this book from NetGalley was a no brainer for this bookworm.

The things that I loved the most about this book were the descriptions of New York City and The Owl -- the bookstore where Emse works.  Author Deborah Meyler has a unique talent in describing the sights, sounds and smells of Emse's little corner of NYC and the quaintness of The Owl.  It was so clearly described that I could almost smell the old books stacked precariously all over the store and could easily envision myself wandering through the stacks in the search of a new read.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that the animate characters of the story appealed to me as much as the city or the bookstore.  Esme was not a main character that I connected with.  She was the clichéd overly naïve academic who was book smart but shows the reader that education does not automatically mean a person is 'street smart' too.  I have nothing against a naïve character.  They can be charming and a beginning point for an authentic self awareness journey.  But, there's naïve and then there's gullible and I'm afraid that Esme came off to me as more and more gullible as the story went on.  It got to the point where I just wanted to shake some sense into her.

For me, Esme's gullibility stems from her wishy-washy decision making and her toxic relationship with the utterly nasty Mitchell.  The man has no redeeming qualities unless you find obscene amounts of money redeeming (I don't). He's sardonic, and utterly self-centred and can easily manipulate Esme. I just didn't understand why such a smart woman like Esme would be so stupid in 'love'.  I realize that love is blind and that it is admirable to stick out the bad times in the hopes for the good times ahead.  I get that, I do.  But after awhile of reading about Esme being used by the overly pompous, despicable Mitchell we quickly move from Naïve Esme to Doormat Esme.  And I do not like Doormat Esme.  Not one bit.  She frustrated me. 

Esme comes off as fragile and a 'fish out of water' since she's been transplanted from England.  In the beginning she has her PhD but as the story progresses we see less and less of a personality with Esme and more of her wondering again and again how she'll cope without Mitchell in her life and a baby on the way.  In effect, Esme loses her personality and likeability.  She refuses to stand up for herself and therefore we don't get to witness much growth in Esme.  I can stomach a doormat of a character if I can eventually get to the happily ever after (or close enough to it).  But Esme at the beginning of the book strongly resembles the Esme at the end of the book and I needed more of a self discovery from her.

The secondary characters at the bookstore (as well as Stella, Esme's neighbour) were quirky and stood out for me.  I would have loved to have heard more from Stella who balanced Esme's naivety with a healthy dose of reality and honesty.  The eccentric group of men who frequent The Owl were varied and each had their own brief background story.

As I was reading this book I got the feeling that the author was going for more of an intellectual contemporary fiction/mild chick lit read but some of the obscure art/literary references went over my head.  A few references here and there are fine but there were so many that it just left me feeling a little frustrated that I wasn't getting the reference being made.  

It feels like the book just touched on some of the issues and didn't quite delve into them as much as I was hoping.  I kept waiting for the 'big twist' to come and surprise me but this book was predictable right up until the end which itself felt too abrupt for me. I would have loved to have more resolution.

Going into it I was hoping for a quirky and charming read but I ended up feeling frustrated and bored since the pace never really took off.  Overall, I'm sad to say, this book just didn't resonate with me. 

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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