What do French novels and Seinfeld have in common?
Well, if I got your attention with that question, my first answer is a disclaimer -- I have limited exposure to both and probably shouldn't be making judgments. But I won't let that stop me from offering my second answer, which is that both seem to create a great deal of drama around a nothing premise.
Maybe "nothing premise" isn't really fair or accurate. There was a premise here. "A Novel Bookstore" is yet another addition to the books-are-awesome-and-change-lives genre. (As a little aside, I must once again reference Daniel's review
where he asks why books feel this constant need to justify their existence, particularly when they're clearly preaching to the choir -- if you're choosing to spend your limited leisure time reading this book, you probably already think books are pretty awesome.)
Having said that, this is arguably one of the better examples of this genre. A wealthy heiress and off-the-beaten-path bookseller collaborate to open a bookstore which is clearly meant to shove it in the face of all those mega-bookstores out there -- instead of a large multi-story complex, this small bookstore is highly selective and only includes "good novels" -- those nominated by a secret committee of high-brow authors.
And here's the rub -- the members of the committee are top secret! Oh, if this gets out! Whatever shall we do? Well, maybe I just don't get French culture but I couldn't understand why Renee, the concierge in The Elegance of the Hedgehog
, was so desperate to hide her literary interests and here too, the need for absolute secrecy wasn't at all clear to me. But it created drama, so I guess we'll just have to accept it.
What was even more dramatic was the reaction to this bookstore's initial wild success. Oh, the anger. Oh, the wrath. Again, maybe I just don't get France. Isn't it a free country? Can't anyone open whatever kind of bookstore they want to, selective, mass-market, whatever? Can't people simply vote with their feet if they don't like the bookstore? Why all this intensity?
But what starts as internet flaming eventually culminates on physical attacks on a few of the secret committee members (gasp! How did the secret ever get out?), and now there's a mystery to be solved about who engineered this. There's also a love story which was pretty unimpressive. I hate to say it, but it's kind of ironic when a novel glorifying good novels doesn't manage to be one.
Okay. I'm being a little harsh here. It kept me reading until the end, and I was in fact charmed by the fantasy of a selective bookstore stocked with only good novels (although I have to add here that in my experience, authors actually aren't always the best sources of book recommendations. I wasn't crazy about many of the book's on Stephen King's must-read list, and I also haven't been thrilled with a lot of other author's recommendations). And I think some of my distance could be attributed to the not-particularly-eloquent translation, for which I can't blame the author or the book.
So I'll give this three stars because it had its redeeming features, and probably most goodreaders would appreciate the fantasy of a store which is kind of like goodreads in real time.