” Van and Francesca talked about the issue for a long time. Francesca would have lied, to a greater or lesser degree, for the public image of the store to be: at The Good Novel, you don’t go looking for books that everyone is talking about. ” (Part II, 20, p.147)
Mystery abounds in the opening pages of The Novel Bookstore: three people are given a glimpse of death but all survived their ordeal. A devotee of Stendhal was kidnapped and left for dead in a forest. An older man of unbreakable habits is threatened and taunted by two men during his morning walk. A mother who spends much of her time shuttling children skidded of the road on a twisty mountain road. These victims are ordinary people who share a common link: they are anonymous members of an eight-person committee at The Good Novel, an elitist bookstore in Paris, that sells books the owners hold in high esteem.
We want splendid books, books that immerse us in the splendor of reality and keep us there; books that prove to us that love is at work in the world next to evil, right up against it, at times indistinctly, and that it always will be, just the way that suffering will always ravage hearts. We want great novels. (Part III, 36, p.279)
The identities of the committee members are known only to Francesca and Ivan, the unlikely business partners of a unique Parisian bookstore, The Good Novel, that sells only the best fiction—high-brow literature, suggested and compiled by the said committee, considered superior to the usual bestseller-list foderol. Despite the immediate success, the bookstore’s provocative stance of offering nothing but “great” literature unleashes a tide of hatred. Detractors publish diatribes accusing its proprietors and denizens of snobbery and elitism.
Cossé devotes many pages to the intricate selection process and preservation of secrecy. Physical assault of the committee members quickens the pace of the book. It becomes obvious that the organized campaign makes use of both propaganda and business tactics. Newspaper editorials attack The Good Novel, the internet condemns it, armies of the night cover Paris with posters descrying their exclusionary practice, and rival bookstores open across the street.
While the mystery of assaults stalls and dissipates without satisfactory resolution, it is, however, incidental to the larger themes of what superlative work in the literary sphere constitutes. The struggle of this fictional literary idyll invokes the debate of reading what gives pleasure vs. reading what one’s supposed to read. Manifested also in the plight is a bigger, more encroaching issue that concerns the entire book industry: what place is there for high-brow, highly lyrical and often difficult literature in a consumerism-oriented, mercenary world? Although the ending falls flat, the book is a creative endeavor that compels readers to consider their own literary preferences more consciously.
416 pp. Europa Editions (2010). Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]