The Christmas Bookshop

After two duds from Debbie Macomber I decided to read what should be a no-fail novel: how can one go wrong with a novel about both Christmas and a bookshop? The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan centres on Carmen Hogan, a young woman sent to work in a struggling Edinburgh bookstore. Her older sister Sofia is a successful lawyer whose life seems perfect with three children and a baby on the way, a nanny, and a gigantic house. Sofia’s client is the bookstore owner, Mr. McCredie, whom she risks losing if the store goes bankrupt. In an attempt to salvage the store, she sends Carmen, who in her eyes is a perennial underachiever, to work her magic. Maybe she can breathe new life into the store over Christmas.

While my mission is not to write a review comparing this novel with the two Debbie duds, I will say that Colgan’s was considerably longer than either of them, so she had the time to develop two love interests for Carmen. All Christmas novels faced with some dilemma at the start have a happy ending, so it is no spoiler to reveal that Carmen works wonders transforming a disorderly crowded dusty store into a trendy hangout with storytimes and author visits. Business booms over Christmas and the store finally turns a profit. The dialogue between Carmen and Sofia seemed real, so much so that Colgan wasn’t afraid to drop a few F-bombs into the mix of holiday banter between two rival sisters. I was not taken with any of Sofia’s children, who seemed like eternally simpering pampered idiots. I suppose this is what you get when you pawn them off on a nanny who seems obsessed with spirituality and physical appearances. She imposes her own diet onto the children and they can never measure up to her standards of glamour or discipline.

The story flowed at a rapid clip, even the pages not filled with dialogue when composed of solid blocks of text. Colgan wrote annoyingly long sentences, some of which were interspersed with elongated clauses separated by dashes. This is not an untoward sentence structure in fiction, provided the two parts of the sentence flanking the dashed insert read smoothly and fit together if one were to excise the dashed aside. Yet every time I encountered one of these run-ons, I had to stop everything and reread the darn sentence multiple times. The post-dash sentence continuations rarely linked to the first half. The second halves of these sentences were without verbs or connector words, dangling without any connection to the pre-dash segments.

I felt that Colgan was giving the reader a sly wink each time she wrote such a run-on, as in this example:

“In fact, Blair had not invited Skylar at all and was making increasingly strenuous excuses to stop her from coming, but Skylar had a gleam of persistence about her and couldn’t bear to go back to her parents’ newly built tiny little house on an executive estate just outside Slough where they called her by her birth name, Janet, and lived off frozen lasagna, which they ate in front of Come Dine with Me while talking about the neighborhood-watch scheme.”

What was the author’s reason for stringing all those pointless details together? These long sentences may have been eye rolls but I was taken with the line below, which I enjoyed rereading:

“Once again, Carmen got the sense of sadness coming from him, chiming completely with the room, full of unwound clocks.”

The bookstore owner, Mr. McCredie, revealed a shameful truth from his past which reminded me of the affair in The Girl from the Channel Islands. I wasn’t moved by his revelation and it all happened so late in the novel that I couldn’t summon any feelings about it–and then the novel ended. I was genuinely surprised that the story ended so abruptly, as I could see eleven pages still to come which any reader would expect to elaborate on a few things. But these pages were author notes or simply a series of blank pages. I was shocked to come to the end and felt cheated after a week’s read.

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