Review: A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence . Europa Editions. 416 pp.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. Europa Editions. 416 pp.

Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free reign. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence.

I think the first (and only) time I saw this book in person was on a table display at Borders. (Oh, Borders, how I miss you!) I bought something else that day, but this book’s beautiful cover — and the fact that it’s about a bookstore — earned it a spot on my TBR list. It took me years to order it, though when I finally did I flew through it in a matter of days.

I’m going to start with the negative aspects of this book, because I have less to say about them: the love story fell flat and the mystery’s solution was disappointing at best. At times it read stiffly — in other words, I could tell that it was a translated work. (More ideas on translated works here, in case you’re interested.)

Predictably, my favorite parts were the ones dealing with literature: the founding of the bookstore, the system of selection for The Good Novel’s stock, and the fact that the characters always seemed to find time to read. I appreciated the fact that, although The Good Novel only stocked…well…”good” novels, the author’s attitude toward more mainstream bestsellers didn’t seem too much like an attack. Let’s be honest: some books are better than others. But a lot of the time, this preference is heavily subjective. It’s interesting to consider where the line between objective and subjective literary merit lies.

There are lots of favorable blurbs on the back of this book, but my favorite is from The Huffington Post:

A deeply satisfying manifesto of book love and a sharp indictment of those who would use such love for their own evil purposes.

More than being a mystery, or a love story, this is a book about pure, unyielding love for the well-written word.

As elitist as it might seem, I love the idea of The Good Novel. I’ve been known to pick up a Dan Brown book from time to time, sure, but I like the idea of walking into a shop where every item for sale has been selected with the utmost care. In a neighborhood where I used to live, there was a store called Second Story High End Thrift. The owner shopped other secondhand stores and came away with what she considered to be the best of the best: no tears or stains, of course, but the items also fit her style preferences. I shopped there frequently because I loved the stuff she found, and I never left empty-handed, even though I never went with a particular item in mind. Why? I trusted her taste preferences. Was her selection more limited? Of course. But if you want a little bit of everything, there’s still The Salvation Army (where I also go to browse). The point is, there’s room for both. And there’s no love lost on either side. Why can’t literature be like that? If I’m not missing the point entirely, that seems to be what Cossé is suggesting.

All in all: Would A Novel Bookstore be found on the shelves of The Good Novel? Probably not. It’s too uneven. But I’d say it’s still worth checking out.