Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop

Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan is a sequel to The Christmas Bookshop, where Carmen Hogan salvaged a struggling bookstore in Edinburgh. That novel had a happy ending at Christmastime when the store faced the certain likelihood of closing. We return to the shop a year later, where the shopkeeper and his neighbours face being bought out by a greedy entrepreneur, who wants to replace all of them with junky souvenir shops. Carmen tries to convince her boss, Mr. McCredie, not to sell up but it’s a hard sell as he has been invited to join an expedition on a dream vacation to Antarctica and needs the money.

Some of that money was earned by renting out the shop for an American film production, which is how the novel opens. Genevieve Burr is an actor cast in the role of bookshop clerk. I had an early laugh when she has a chat with Carmen, who is viewing the filming:

“‘I just want to bring real authenticity to the part,’ she told Carmen breathlessly. Carmen was going to suggest she get herself needlessly dirty by trying to dust the shelves in the stacks, then listen to fifteen people telling her they could get books quicker on the internet, then give nine people directions to the castle that was literally right over their heads, then take £4.59 all morning.”

In an attempt to increase profits, Carmen persuaded Mr. McCredie to open up the shop by clearing out the spacious back rooms in order to display more books for sale. She was given free rein to explore his sprawling house, which shared the same space as the shop. In her wanderings she made this observation, which I liked:

“It was like a curated museum of pieces that must have been old even when Mr. McCredie was young. Carmen half expected to find little exploratory notes on the walls, or creepy faceless models wearing old-fashioned clothes picking up a coal scuttle.”

Two men vie for Carmen’s affections: Oke, the dendrologist from the first novel and Rudi, the nanny her sister Sofia hires. I liked Rudi and his bisexual boldness, and his dialogue was assertive, self-confident and sexy. When Oke leaves Edinburgh to engage in a tree study in Brazil, Carmen is drawn closer to Rudi.

Nonbinary identity, the current fad preoccupying many confused individuals, crept into this novel. It was an unpleasant intrusion upon my reading experience. Mr. Crawford, an Edinburgh clothing retailer, was talking about bookshops:

“‘They spread enlightenment, that gentle revolution of the rights of man.’ Mrs. Crawford smacked his arm. ‘And ladies.’ A younger nonbinary person tugged him on the other side. ‘Sorry. The rights of all people,’ he said. ‘Apologies.'”

Colgan sullied her novel with these lines. The next generation will laugh at us for creating a hysteria over people’s inability to distinguish male from female. To her credit, Colgan did acknowledge that gender roles do indeed have a basis in biology with this passage:

“Sofia had hoped to raise her children in a gender-neutral environment; however, when she had bought Jack a doll, he had used it as war fodder, and when she had bought Pippa a racing car, she had caught her tucking it up in bed saying, ‘Good night, car, sleep well and don’t have bad dreams about trucks,’ so had rather given it up.”

Colgan was guilty of pointlessly long run-on sentences again, a point I had raised in The Christmas Bookshop. What was the purpose for including this monstrosity:

“Then they rolled themselves into the blanket again and hopped back, hysterical, wondering how they were going to make coffee and Rudi explaining how he’d had a grabber, actually, at one point, like a hook, and how it had given everyone conniptions while not being much use but he did use it sometimes and Carmen had stared at him and he had explained he hadn’t actually killed people with it, it was for picking up mugs, and she frowned and said, did it do other things, and he had said, see, that’s why he didn’t wear it anymore, stupid questions like hers, and yes it was very useful for pirate adventures, until they found they were laughing so hard they couldn’t breathe, and he pulled her laughing face toward his and kissed her gently on the forehead and said, you are so brilliant, Carmen Hogan–and that was the exact moment the children found them when they burst into the upstairs rooms, come to inform Carmen that it had snowed lots and lots, and could they all go and play immediately.”

I did like Colgan’s observations of children, and wonder if she based any about Carmen’s nieces and nephews on her own three at home. I especially liked the description of Phoebe:

“Jack was bouncing off walls and breaking anything his hands came anywhere near; Pippa was insisting her mother sit through essays and music and long recitations of how everyone else was misbehaving but she had got another gold star, and Phoebe was huffing long sighs and was completely unable somehow to do the simplest task asked of her, whether it was washing her hands before dinner or moving her schoolbag away from the dark corner of the stairwell where it was tripped over repeatedly by every single human being in the house.”

I was almost at the end of the novel before I encountered any relevance to the title. I kept wondering when midnight would take on some importance. Colgan wouldn’t have entitled her novel Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop unless something significant happened at midnight, right? We had to wait until page 300–the novel only has 302 pages–to find out what finally happens between Carmen and Oke…at midnight (hint hint).

Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop was a more enjoyable sequel and I eagerly await the store update next year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *