Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
A mysterious baby is left in a bookshop owned by a well-read, widowed grump, who slowly comes to life and finds love again with a book rep and they very nearly live happily ever after.
When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
It came from Little, Brown for review – I’d had my eye on it in their catalogue. Anything about a bookshop – from ‘Shadow of the Wind’ to ‘Neverending Story’ – gets me (almost) every time.
What’s your verdict?
I loved this, and I know I’ll re-read it before the year is out. It’s concise, it’s quirky, it has stuff about a precocious, clever kid and a disenchanted middle aged man; a lovable cop and a ratty sister-in-law, and a cool, clever girlfriend – and lots about how to write fiction.
Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
I finished it in a flash. And I know it’ll be like the ‘Guernsey Literary Society’ for me – I’ll read it again and again because I love being among the characters.
What genre would you say it is?
This is slightly hip and quirky literary fiction – but about characters we actually care about and with a great deal happening. But it’s also about fiction itself, and poses big, big questions and it’s unashamedly about love, loss and second chances – and it’s got a couple of good mystery plots winding through there, too.
What surprises did it hold – if any?
The solutions to the mysteries were surprising – and I loved the satisfying jigsaw-clicks in the later chapters.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
There’s a lot of tragedy and melancholy… but there’s also a knockout chapter of screwball, silly comedy, involving an ancient author at a book event that A.J rashly organizes. This is literary fiction that’s not at all afraid to relish silliness and embarrassment.
I think my favourite character must be the cop, Lambiase, who becomes an increasingly important presence throughout the book. At the start he gruffly admits to never really reading… but soon enough he’s running his own book club for law enforcers. His journey through the book is a very entertaining one. A decision he makes at one stage – to ignore the evidence of what he knows is a crime – is very touching indeed.
Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
I haven’t read other books by Gabrielle Levin, but I’m pleased to see that there are plenty, and I’ll definitely seek more out.
I did wonder… do we really need another book starting with an abandoned child, and how they grow up to change everyone’s lives around them? After ‘The Snow Child’ and ‘The Light Between the Oceans’ and all… but, yes, I guess we did.
What will you do with this copy now?
It’s a keeper, of course. It goes on my shelf for re-reading.
Is it available today?
It was published in the UK on March the 16th.
Give me a good quote:
“P.S. The thing I find most promising about your short story is that it shows empathy. Why do people what they do? This is the hallmark of great writing.”