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