Book Review - The Vintage Bookshop of Memories
The decision to make vast, life altering challenges to the way you live your life often happen after a cataclysmic event. The loss of a job, or a family member, or a loved and cosy apartment. It forces you to reevaluate what it is that makes your life meaningful, and to decide whether or not the void left needs filling.
Author Elizabeth Holland sets us down this path of awakening when we step into the world of "The Vintage Bookshop of Memories". Prue Clemonte, well-to-do auction house valuer, old-school clothing enthusiast and aficionado of gin-based beverages, finds herself drawn back to Ivy Hatch, the township over which her recently deceased grandmother presided. The book begins at the funeral of the grandmother, who had raised Prue after her mother's death. She lived an insular life in the small English village, of which her family are the prominent land owners.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Prue's privileged status is causing some class-based frictions among the villagers, due to some long standing issues with unfair rent increases, drama between the local families, and the mystery surrounding Prue's mother and the father she's never met. Only a local lawyer, named Elliot, shows her any sort of decency to start with, and Prue discovers her mother's abandoned business... The Vintage Bookshop of Memories.
Within the bookshop, there are clues that help unravel the family's past, and the link between the villager's hatred of her and the estrangement of her father.
The themes of this book seem to elucidate the necessity of casting of the shackles of history, and embracing the change that allows you to grow as a person. Broadly speaking, it's a romance story but the colour of the mystery bubbles neatly below the surface all the way through and there's real intrigue about the fate of Prue's father. The township of Ivy Hatch speaks to the gossipy conservatism of small towns even in contemporary times, and the image of this evergreen community rife with long-held tensions is the among the strongest parts of the narrative. I found the eponymous bookshop and the village to both be lovingly imagined and carefully crafted backdrops to the story, and the book is filled with imagery of a quaint countryside.
I did find it difficult to sympathise with Prue's plight in the beginning of the book - as landlord of a significant proportion of the town, the tension that seems to arise is first and foremost financial. Maybe it's my own prejudices of landlords, but Miss Clemonte crying foul of the residents being upset with her rental arrangements didn't endear me to the protagonist. In a similar vein, Elliot could have used some more character - I wasn't sure that I bought Prue becoming besotted with this young man after their first meeting, he didn't seem as rounded as he could have been. He was handsome though. Perhaps a "ten" can get away with things a "five" couldn't.
The strength in this book is in its mise en scene. The constant references to the age of things. The way the past is almost a physical presence held in the palm of the character's hands. The physical aspects of the characters, from the way they dress to the classism that the village hasn't outgrown in the 21st century. The story drips with the shackles of the past, and the knowledge that the mysteries revealed can only be unlocked by acknowledgement, acceptance and bold movement to the future. When the characters learn to accept the past rather than carry the consequences, there's nearly an impression of weight being lifted from the pages of the book. It should serve as a reminder, or even a spur, to the reader, to try to find the things from their own past which are holding them back, and to pursue the future with vigour.
If you're a fan of romance, mystery, history, or the idea of an idyllic English countryside, you can find "The Vintage Bookshop of Memories" on Amazon. Follow Elizabeth Holland on Twitter, or check out her website "Anxiety and Liz" where she regularly posts about her writing and mental health.
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