You could craft an entire college course around Deborah Meyler’s The Bookstore. There are so many facets to the theme, plot, and language, that I don’t know where to begin recounting this reading experience. The Bookstore is gargantuan in scope and yet so precise in its emotional observations, I feel with Esme, the protagonist.
Esme is a Brit, studying art history at Columbia University in New York City. She is in and out of a relationship with the blue blood Mitchell, who is every bit as unique as the other people in Esme’s world. Surprised by a pregnancy, she begins to work at her favorite independent bookstore as she navigates the surprising landscape of her life. I am being vague, because a short resume merely subtracts from The Bookstore’s power.
Some stories develop like the quarter strokes of a church clock. You see and hear the pull of the clock’s arm as it takes the last step to set off the gong, marking the time. The Bookstore develops stealthily, guiding you along the periphery until you realize where you are.
“I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess. This is unfortunate, because ever since I woke up this morning I’ve had a feeling that I might be in one.”
Esme reflects on the happenings in her life, setting them in context with her studious intellect and charming wit, and discovers that even if she doesn’t approve of messes, they exist and cannot always be neatly boxed in. Life happens while you are trying to see the big picture.
I love those moments of reflection in The Bookstore, because they are heartfelt and intelligent at the same time. One that will stay with me is Esme’s musing about the verbs to “mother” and to “father”.
It was the title, which beckoned me closer when I bought the book, because bookstores are enchanted places far beyond a store where you can buy books. Bookstores are libraries of stories, knowledge, and characters – some grand and others obscure, but all of them relevant once you dive in. The Owl – the bookstore in the novel – is no different. The well-worn pages of the books as well of the eccentricities of the employees and customers alike are the inner makings of The Bookstore. And a bookstore inevitably contains a little messiness. Esme does her best to clean and organize, but in the end… well, she sees things in a new light.