The Printed Letter Bookshop is the name of a book store as well as the title of Katherine Reay’s novel.
Madeline’s aunt Maddie, for whom she was named, has just died. Madeline has fond memories of staying with her aunt and uncle years ago and helping out in their bookshop. But some altercation came up between Madeline’s father and his sister. In loyalty to her dad, Madeline has kept her distance from Maddie.
Madeline thought she was going to make partner in her law firm, but she doesn’t. At a crossroads, she learns that Maddie has left her store, home, car, everything to Madeline. Madeline figures she will probably sell everything in a few months. For now she goes to check things out.
Janet was one of Maddie’s employees, the one who stayed with her in the last weeks of her illness. Janet has a kind heart but a crusty exterior, at least at first. Her base-level emotion is anger. Her marriage split up recenty, and her children, blaming her, want little to do with her.
Claire, Maddie’s other main employee, is a wife and mom. Her husband is a busy, successful consultant. Her children are constantly busy with friends, school, and activities. Her once close relationship with her daughter has cooled. Claire feels invisible.
Janet and Claire feel uneasy about Madeline, especially with her distance from her aunt and the uncertainty of her future plans for the shop. For them, the shop is their refuge, the place where they find purpose. But in working together and getting to know each other, the three women eventually form new relationships and gain new insights into themselves and each other.
The chapters rotate between the different womens’ points of view. I thought it odd that Madeline’s and Janet’s chapters were written in the first person and Claire’s in the third until near the end. But as Claire’s story unfolds, the reason for the difference in the story’s points of view becomes clear.
Katherine’s books all contain a wealth of literary references, usually to classics. With this story revolving about a bookshop and stories, literary references flow delightfully freely. Her list of classic and modern works referred to at the end covers three and a third kindle-sized pages.
A couple of my favorite quotes from the book:
That’s what books do, Maddie used to say; they are a conversation, and introduce us to ourselves and others.
You could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.
I am from a different faith community than the main spiritual spokesperson in the book. I have dear friends within that community, but we know there are significant areas where we disagree. While I wish a couple of spiritual aspects were clearer, I felt the book did bring out some good spiritual truths.
I enjoyed the literary references and each woman’s unfolding journey individually and together. And I loved the book cover!