In Jenny Colgan’s Bookshop on the Corner, we meet Nina, a librarian whose library in Birmingham, England is about to close for good. She’ll soon be out of a job and isn’t sure what to do. She already has a collection of books that is spilling out of the room she rents from a friend and is beginning to take over the house. Then she starts rescuing and bringing home books the library is unable to sell, which only heightens tensions with her long-suffering house mate.
During an employer provided team-building course to help the library staff cope with the upcoming layoffs, Nina gets the idea to start a bookstore in a van. Think food truck size. Despite her friends’ dismay and disbelief, she can’t let the idea go. When she is not chosen for one of only two openings at the new media resource center, she decides to get serious about selling books, something she knows she can do well.
The van she finds is in Kirrinfief, Scotland. And through a series of events, she decides to open her van bookshop in Kirrinfief. I would have been happy if the whole book was the story of her establishing the shop and I expected early on there would be more obstacles to that goal being achieved.
But she quickly gets the bookshop up and running despite a few hitches. The fun of the story is in the people she meets in Kirrinfief: a grumpy landlord, “the boys” at the local pub (elderly regulars), a train conductor who connects Birmingham and Kirrinfief for her, other village residents, and a sullen teenager with a very needy kid brother.
There are friendships, people trying to make a go at things, small depictions of family dynamics, and yes, romance. The spirit of the book reminded me of Maeve Binchy and Marcia Willett’s books. And there’s a little James Herriot thrown in, too. (Who doesn’t like James Herriott?) The descriptions of Scotland are wonderful, and you can tell the author has lived there (she lives there now).
That evening, as Nina arrived in Scotland for the very first time, it was not stormy and wet and overcast, with clouds so low they seemed to clip the trees. Instead it was as if the entire country was showing off for her. The evening was golden, the northern light strange and beautiful. Everywhere she looked, it seemed, were gray stone castles and long bright vistas, lambs gamboling in the fields and deer scattering away in distant woods as the bus rolled past.”Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan
Sunlight rippled through the trees, puddled down the furrows of the fields. A tractor happily trundled across a field with birds flying in front of it, like something out of an old children’s book about life on a farm. Reflecting the clouds above, a little cohort of lambs was charging around, hopping up and down and nipping at one another’s tails in a field so green it looked Technicolor.”Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan
The summer stretched on. There were great heaving stormy days, when the clouds lay on the meadow grass bent low under its weight. But equally there were glorious, bursting days, when the sun rose golden and pink ahead, and the wind blew soft and warm, tiny clouds scudding across the sky, rabbits everywhere, and the vast scent of hay rising from the fields and perfuming the air made the whole world feel fresh and washed clean.”Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan
The landscape and geography are important elements as Nina’s newly adopted hometown has a big Summer Festival around the time of the summer solstice, where they party through the night. Summer nights in northern Scotland are very short.
The book is a celebration of a slower way of life. This is a feel-good book which includes magical tradition, a night train, a moody train engineer, a feisty roommate, men in kilts, farms, sheep, dogs, village citizens, a needy family with a secret, big city friends, and books, books, and more books.
A great book to read when the world is scary. I’m glad I had this when the pandemic was breaking into our consciousness and when stay-at-home orders and government scandal were blooming all around.
To me, the romance was secondary. The main character’s independence and adventures and interactions with the rest of the characters was more satisfying and entertaining.
Bookshop on the Corner is lighthearted, heartwarming, and a little magical.
Scotland scenery by Sharon Ang from Pixabay / filtered from original