Review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

the-bookstore“A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.

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.” – Publisher Summary

When I received my copy of The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler, I was ready to delve into a magical, lyrical world of books, eccentric characters, and possibly even romance. After all, that’s what these kinds of books tend to offer, correct? Well, I got one of the things I wanted, anyway:

“The store is narrow, about ten feet across, with a central staircase leading to a mezzanine. There are books on both sides of the stairway, in ever more precarious piles, and it is a hardy customer who will pick her way carefully up the stairs to the dusty stacks beyond. Downstairs is a tumble of books that I sometimes surreptitiously straighten. There are sections labeled with old notices, but they flow into each other in an unstoppable tide, so that history is compromised by mythology leaking into it, mystery books get mixed up with religion, and the feminist section is continually outraged by the steady dribble of erotica from the shelves above. When books do manage to make it to shelves, instead of being in piles near their sections, they are shelved double deep and the attempts at alphabetization are sometimes noticeable, with “A”s and “Z”s serving as bookends to the jumble in the center.”

Totally sounds like my kind of place. And it is here where 23-year-old Esme Garland lands after a series of unexpected revelations. Esme is a British transplant to Manhattan, a scholarship student at Columbia. She is deep in the flush of new love with the affluent Professor Mitchell Van Leuven and life is fabulous and wonderful. Until Esme discovers that she is pregnant. On the day that she plans to tell Mitchell, he breaks their relationship off before she can share the unexpected news.

Broke, single and pregnant, Esme despairs at how she will raise a child on her own. Just at the right moment, she sees that her favorite bookstore, The Owl, is hiring. She is already a regular at the store, and now she is brought into the fold of the store’s family – George, Luke, Bruce and Mary, and even the homeless Dennis, Tee and DeeMo. Esme is now able to support herself and prepare for the baby, and at the same time her life becomes ever so much richer because of her co-workers and customers. Things are moving along swimmingly, until… Mitchell comes back, and Esme’s world is thrown into chaos once again.

All right, y’all, I’m going to come right out and admit that the only reason I finished this book is because I wanted to see the outcome of Esme’s pregnancy and that whole situation. There really isn’t much of a plot here other than a quasi-love story, and to be honest, the novel’s end is ultimately ambiguous and unsatisfying as a whole.

The whole Esme/Mitchell relationship was bizarre and somewhat convoluted. Esme appears to be a spineless man-pleaser whose true feelings for Mitchell never appear to be completely clear, and Mitchell… oh, Mitchell. Mitchell is just crazy. Seriously, Meyler has written into Mitchell’s character shades of some kind of mental illness or mental disorder (BPD, perhaps?). Suffice it to say, Mitchell has Issues.

In all, the actual bookstore, The Owl, saved the day. The interactions between Esme and her co-workers and customers, were what ultimately held my interest. The loving descriptions of the tomes and the store itself, the disposition and quirks of The Owl’s staff – this is what managed to capture my heart. If you are a lover of books and bookstores, it may just capture yours, as well.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler. Buy it, read it, love it.

3 stars

Source: Gallery/Threshold/Pocket {via NetGalley}



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