August 20, 2013
Publisher’s Description: 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.
I went into The Bookstore expecting to really enjoy it. Sadly I didn’t as much as I had hoped, but I was invested enough to read until the end to find out what happened to Esme and her pregnancy.
A lot of this novel unfolds in conversations, and I didn’t find very many of them to be convincing, or particularly interesting. Part of the problem is that about half take place in the bookstore, The Owl (I guess to be expected in a novel so titled). I learned some things about all of them, but I didn’t get a chance to know anyone beyond superficial interactions. There wasn’t much depth.
Esme’s relationship with Mitchell was also problematic. He shows repeatedly that he doesn’t seem to be that much in love, and was such an ass to the point that it seems as if Meyler is hinting at mental illness or some sort of deficiency. Their relationship and the depth of Esme’s feelings for him never made sense. Esme seemed to like him well enough in the beginning, but was also much more concerned about school, and the new life she was building in New York. In many respects her behavior did make sense for a woman in love, and in a toxic relationship. I just didn’t see the love, so it was very hard to understand why she went through the things she did.
It wasn’t all loss. I did enjoy the descriptions of the bookstore and some of the patrons, Esme’s work on her graduate degree, and the discussions of authors, artists, novels, and the literary life in general. My finishing The Bookstore was driven by trying to see what perspective Esme gains around choices concerning her pregnancy and relationship, but unfortunately the novel’s conclusion was unsatisfying. It ended rather abruptly – with few indications of where Esme will go next, or how much of her past has been resolved. Less ambiguity by the end would have gone a long way in shaping how I felt by the novel’s end. As it stands, I was more disappointed than not.