The Character of Place: A Book Review of “The Printed Letter Bookshop” by Katherine Reay

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“Blood might be thicker than water, but both were thinner than money.” Madeline, p.13

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay is a compelling narrative about three women drawn together over the fate of a beloved local independent bookstore. The story is divided into chapters, each focusing on one of the three women: Madeline, Janet, or Claire. Each chapter is further divided into sections that are written from the point of view of each woman.

I enjoyed this book and found several elements that contributed to making it a solid read. Each woman has a distinct personality and a well-developed character. The author does an excellent job using intricate and key details such as clothing choices, hairstyles, or favorite foods to bring each character to life. One of the central themes of the book is community and how a community develops around place and location. There are many descriptions of locations, architecture, or interior design that illustrate and enhance this theme. When Madeline describes the partners at her law firm, for example, she does so by details their preferences in interior design style. And when the three women experience an anxious moment in the story, entering a familiar restaurant has a tangible effect on their well-being:

“they were assailed with the scents of truffles, olive oil, stew, wine, and spices upon pushing through Mirabella’s revolving door. Claire felt everything tight within her unwind. Janet’s and Madeline’s expressions implied the same was happening for them.” Claire, p. 85

Throughout the novel, the character development is enhanced by the places they inhabit. Perhaps this is because the bookshop itself – a central character in the community – plays such an integral role in the story.

Another central theme of the novel is how we experience challenging situations in life, primarily failure in all its various forms. There are many interesting twists and turns in the plot, enough to keep the reader guessing and to allow for many challenging situations for each character. In working through these problems, the women learn about themselves, their relationships, and the role of shame and forgiveness in dealing with the past. Ultimately, we are asked to consider not only what happens to us in life as a series of events, but the choices we make in response to these experiences.

“…it often isn’t the events that haunt us…it is the choices we make within those events we carry all our days.” Claire, p. 129

As a female reader in her 40s, I could identify with many aspects of the main character’s lives and this contributed to my enjoyment of the book. If you are an avid reader, you will enjoy the many references to classic books both old and new tucked throughout the story. The plot had me invested enough to come to tears at least once. Overall I would recommend as a pleasurable read with fun, dynamic characters and engaging descriptive writing that draws the reader into a story about how we deal with the very real ups and downs presented to us as we journey through life.