I’ve mentioned before that there is a category of books, mass-market novels, about falling in love with an accidental bookseller. By accidental, it’s because the shop owner usually inherits a shop, or a bookbarge, and falls for an interesting customer. This sub-genre moves on with The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, but back in time to Australia in 1967 where sheep-farmer Tom, never a reader, falls for Hannah, an older woman who sets us a bookshop in his small town. But in this case the bookshop is not a major character.
Tom is the sort of sheep farmer who drives his “ute” “forward and back over the acorns while the ducks watched on in approval” so they can “eat the flesh out of the acorns fallen from the trees planted by the Lutherands fifty years past” – Hannah is a Hungarian-Jewish survivor of Auschwtitz and a death march, a well-read, well-dressed intellectual who seduces him.
Neither has been lucky in love in the past. Tom’s wife ran away, returning pregnant by another man, before running away again to join a Christian commune which is not very Christian to say the least. Tom looks after the child and grows to love him, but his wife and her creepy Pastor are given custody. Hannah has been married twice before. Her first husband and her only son were murdered in Auschwitz, her second, mad, husband is killed in Hungary during the 1956 uprising. She came to Australia to start again, unable to talk about her grief, but determined never to have and therefore never to love a child again for fear of losing them.
But Peter, the child that Tom had grown to love, is determined to leave the prison camp that is the commune and return to the only person who has ever looked after him properly.
Everyone is broken-hearted, including, in a minor way, the young bookshop assistant who has a pash for Tom.
The shop itself struggles, but later becomes successful when it moves into a Lutheran barn at Tom’s, becoming a destination, not least for tourist buses as it is between major vistor sites. And Tom, Hannah and Peter have to work things out.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is essentially a love story. The flashbacks to Hannah’s earlier life are particularly well done and there is nothing maudlin about the book.
But the bookshop itself adds not a lot to the story.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is published in July 2019
Copies can be ordered, post free UK, from firstname.lastname@example.org