Jill MeyerHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Nov. 26 2010
French author Laurence Cosse has invented a "novel" - in two ways - bookstore in her new book. "Novel" because it's a bookstore that only sells novels - and the very best novels - and "novel" because it is a new idea to sell only good novels. The play-on-words can only go so far before it becomes a touch tedious, though.
"The Good Novel" bookstore is opened by two book lovers, who want a store devoted solely to the novel and solely to the best novels ever written. And who will decide the stock carried by the bookstore? Why, a specially selected group of eight French novelists will submit lists of their choices of the 600 greatest novels in print. Both the selectors and their actual selections will/must remain secret from the public. No one must know who selected which books. I must question whether writers or whether readers should select the stock; after all, writers may be excellent writers but might not know what readers want. A minor point, I suppose.
The bookstore opens to much fanfare and is successful from the start. However, criticism begins almost immediately mostly aimed at the "elitist" nature of the bookstore. What makes one novel "good" and worthy of selection for the stock, and another novel "not good" (i.e. "popular") and not worthy of selection. Incidents against the bookstore begin and someone, somehow, discovers the names of the eight hidden selectors and they are targeted for "mischief", not death or serious injury, "mischief". Someone - or somebodies - open competing bookstores in the same block, just drawing business away from "The Good Bookstore". Things eventually work out.
But what was the reader given? A rich plot premise that doesn't really seem to develop and rich characters who remain somewhat ambiguous in their presentation.Read more ›
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
"Masterful novels are life-giving. They enchant us. They help us to live. They teach us."Aug. 31 2010
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Probably every lover of literary fiction has had a fantasy about creating or finding the ideal bookstore, and the main characters in this novel by Laurence Cosse have created just such a bookstore. Ivan (Van) Georg, who manages a shop called The Good Novel, and Francesca Aldo-Valbelli, the heiress who is supporting it financially, have committed themselves to a shop which is not "an ordinary bookstore...[and] our customers [are not] ordinary customers." A committee of eight writers representing different styles of novels selects the books for the shop, each member having a pen name so that no one, not even other committee members, knows their identities, and the book owners stock the shop with these "good" books. With a choice Parisian location near the famed Odeon Theatre, the shop opens to customers in August. The shop is mobbed from the outset. By Christmas, the shop is a huge success.
But success has come at a price. Large numbers of new customers have ordered pop novels, then failed to pick them up, leaving the shop to pay for them. Nasty comments appear on their internet forum, and a seemingly organized attack is mounted in the press, with accusations of elitism taking up whole pages, At one point the shop is described as a "totalitarian undertaking," an attempt by a small group of elite to control the reading done by the public. Fascist accusations result. Ugly posters are plastered all over town, and demands are made that the shop's financial backer be unmasked. Lawsuits are initiated.
Eventually, three attempts to murder members of the secret selection committee, described in the opening pages of the novel, involve the police. Throughout the attacks, both physical and in print, the author raises questions of who benefits from the destruction of one small bookstore and its people. Resentful owners of other bookstores? A general public insulted by the shop's cultural snobbery? Publishers of new novels which have not "made the cut" for inclusion at the shop? A cabal of disaffected authors whose books are not carried by the shop? Soon the attacks begin to take their toll.
A combination of mystery, fantasy, philosophical analysis, and economic treatise on the book industry, A Novel Bookstore raises interesting questions within a unique story. The novel does have its problems, however. A love story involving manager Van and Anis, a wispy and only vaguely attentive young woman, is unsatisfying, and the mystery is not well integrated. The attempts at murder described in the beginning of the novel gain little attention for most of the novel as the ins and outs of book shop business and publishing dominate the "action." In fact, some of the most interesting sections of the novel are those related to the decisions of what books to include on the shelves. Though the novel is obviously fiction, some readers will feel that the plot line and its consequences lack enough realism to provide the reader with significant new understandings of the real "book world." Mary Whipple
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Good -- but not greatFeb. 28 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
I loved the concept of this book, but in the end found it a little dull to read. And without a working knowledge of French novels, so many of the references blew right past me. I'm sure that if you were familiar with all of the book titles and authors they reference, it was a richer read (I did like it when I recognized something, and found it an interesting comment on the definition of "good"). But the suspense part of the story wasn't that well constructed -- a villain who pretty much comes out of nowhere? And it wasn't that hard to figure out who the narrator was, though I suspect that was supposed to be a surprise. And the love story was not very satisfying. In summary: I felt like this book was trying to be too many things at once, and only succeeded at one of those things (taking a stand for the idea that some art/literature is just better than other art/literature - there is no need to celebrate all of it equally; popularity is not an effective guide to "good;" promotion often goes to the marginal; commercial interests can kill good art and those who support it). These are important ideas, and the book did a great job at constructing a way to present them. Unfortunately for me as a reader, it succeeded at making the intellectual theme work, but left the more emotional themes to be less well-developed.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Great Atmospherics, but Plot Fizzles at EndNov. 4 2010
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A fun read for those who like the literary world, if a little pretentious at times. I didn't regret the time I spent reading the book, but the end was anticlimatic...sort of philosophical surrender to the same forces that the protagonist defies through the story. Maybe that was the author's message, but it leaves the book in a gray zone between an entertaining whodunit and a long musing on the state of bookselling.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This book is better than that one: discernment or elitism?Dec 12 2010
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Do you stand reading in bookstores until you realize you are now late, and the book is half done? Do you find yourself scanning friends' bookshelves surreptitiously, while nodding at small talk? Do you think some books are better than others? If so, you will probably enjoy this book as much as I did. However, if you think there is no such thing as a "great book" or are a publisher or mega-chain bookstore owner, you probably won't.
Although this book contains within it a mystery, a couple of love stories, and a bit of otherworldly Chagallishness, mostly it is about people who love books. The catch is that these people don't love just any books, they love good books. Often today's culture celebrates diversity by saying everything is equally good. The consumer should decide for his or her self. Differences in quality are minimized, hidden, or ignored for fear of the e-word: elitism.
A Novel Bookstore explores this concept in the world of book publishing, selling, and reviewing. Fed up with the mediocrity and sameness of the mega-bookstores, and even many smaller ones, Ivan and Francesca decide to open the ideal bookstore: one which carries only "good" novels. We are led through their entire planning process. Novels or all fiction? Just classics or also newly released? Only new copies or also used? And above all, who will decide? The bookstore opens with a flourish and attracts both serious readers and the attention of those who stand to lose if some books are deemed better than others.
I found the beginning of the book delightful: a celebration of literature wrapped in a fun mystery-love story. But somewhere in the last third, I began to feel as though the author had lost her way. A narrative voice appears from nowhere and is a distraction, the mystery comes bogged down and is never resolved, and the theme of discernment in literature turns to an inditement of large publishers, booksellers, critics, and book prize judges in general. But despite a less than optimal ending, I found the book fun to read and a reminder that it is okay to say, "This is a good book, and this one is not."
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Poor novel about "good" novelsMay 10 2011
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A great concept, poorly executed. Should have stopped when I found myself bored and frustrated early on--what detective would sit and listen to the endless details of the creation of the Good Novel Bookstore? But kept going, out of my appreciation for the concept. And what has happened to proofreading in so many current novels? This one had constant errors of grammar and syntax and an amazing number of instances where words left out made it impossible to guess at the author's meaning. Is this bad translating or editing laxity? Hard to tell.
One positive note: did like Francesca. Though she was a little too saintly to be believed, her story was nevertheless moving.