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The Lost Bookshop by Evie Woods: A Review

The Lost Bookshop is both an enchanting novel about a disappearing bookshop, and a dark thriller about overcoming painful personal histories.  Much like the antiquarian rare books that they collect, Opaline, Martha and Henry discover second and third and more chances in this magical place. They discover their worth in the new lives they build for themselves.


Author: Evie Woods

Age & Genres: Adult historical fiction with a dose of magical realism

Series: Not a series

Publisher: One More Chapter by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd

Print Length: 448 pages

Published: June 2023

Read: December 2023



The lost bookshop novel cover of bookshelf with a yellow house tucked between books

Synopsis

In the 1920s, Opaline Carlisle escapes an overbearing brother and an arranged marriage to start a new life as a rare book dealer. Her first stop is Paris and the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore where she brushes elbows with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and the wild ways of the lost generation. But, when her brother catches up with her, she flees again. This time, she finds herself in a quieter but enchanting shop in Dublin that seems to have a life of its own. While building her new business, she discovers what is likely a lost draft of Emily Bronte’s second novel. But before she can verify its authenticity, her brother has her committed to an asylum. Opaline must find her way through the darkness and family secrets to a new life. 


In the present, Martha Winter has escaped an abusive husband to settle in Dublin as a housekeeper to an eclectic elderly woman who has more than a few secrets of her own. But when Henry Field, a PhD candidate from London, arrives insisting that she is living where a bookshop should be standing, a tentative friendship develops as they begin researching Opaline and a mysterious vanishing bookshop. 


Review

Overall impression: A book for book lovers, frequent references to the history of books and the lives that created them frame the novel in a rich and endearing way. The warmth of literary history and the wonderment of magical realism are juxtaposed with the pain and abuse experienced by the characters throughout the novel.


Writing: Woods does a fabulous job of making the writing elevated but readable. The words are thought provoking, but do not slow you down. The novel reads very much like historical fiction, but several fantastical elements add a layer of fantasy to the novel that makes it feel fresh and exciting.


Plot: The plot is difficult to pin down. At its heart, it is a character driven novel about three characters overcoming traumatic personal lives and relationships, and building new lives. Their character arcs are very much what you would expect from a horror thriller. However, it is set against a backdrop of a literary fiction mystery. A vanishing bookstore, words that appear as tattoos on skin, and a tree growing out of the wall are just a few of the mysteries this book holds.


While the complexity of the novel made it rich, my only criticism is that it had a few too many elements or storylines for this length of book. It had three points of view in two timelines. There were some ideas or storylines that were not fully flushed out. The author tackles all of the following in 448 pages: a lost book mystery, a magical/living store mystery, three complex family history mysteries, two thrillers with abusive villains, three abusive relationships, three (and a half?) love stories, several friendships, magical tattoos, alternative realities, and maybe some ghosts? I think that it was done masterfully, but minimally. Adding length or cutting a story line or three would have made it less distracting. And as historical fiction goes, Earnest Hemmingway was likely not in Paris in the Summer of 1921.


Rating: A solid 7. 


Content warnings: Violence including intimate partner violence, abuse, self defense or accidental death?


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