Title: The Last Bookshop
Author: Emma Young
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Emma Young’s debut novel The Last Bookshop could not have come at a better time. Shortlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award, this story finds its bittersweet relevance in today’s economic climate by providing a glimpse into the struggles that independent stores face in a competitive market.
The Last Bookshop follows the story of Cait, the owner of the last independent store on Hay street. Having always felt most at peace surrounded by books and booklovers alike, Cait is completely content to have her days occupied by her store Book Fiend and her mobile bookselling service for elderly clients—that is until a mystery shopper appears. But the city is evolving and Cait can no longer deny that her livelihood is being threatened. Now she fears that Book Fiend will become the next independent store to be lost to another luxury chain.
Despite being Young’s debut novel, her experience as an award-winning journalist truly shines in the development of atmosphere and the nuances of conflict that play into the struggles and dedication of local businesses. Cait is passionately stubborn in her attempts to save Book Fiend, and in doing so, makes several sacrifices that start to intrude into her personal life. Young’s attention to detail of tiresome routines to the ridiculous requests of customers, creates a light-hearted tone that easily transitions into an atmosphere that feels overwhelming and helpless. Much to my surprise, this attention to the development of conflict extends itself to side characters in order to provide the reader with a broader insight to the overall plot. While these characters’ opposing point of view isn’t as in-depth as Cait’s, it is this duality that captures an emotional response and forces the reader to answer a simple question: ‘What would you do?’
Cait’s relationship with her store and the people around her play a huge role in the story. Young’s ability to capture the conflicting demands of each relationship in such a realistic way entices a sense of familiarity and sympathy towards Cait. As a reader who enjoys character-driven plots and the intricacies of relationships, I was excited to see the different interactions between characters both young and old—and for the most part I was impressed. Each character has their own distinct personality and relationship with Cait that exists beyond their love of books. But while I enjoyed these interactions for majority of the book, some characters and their accompanying relationships would have benefitted from more scenes to assist in their development between the introduction and the body of the story. Some important characters had little presence in the beginning that their role later on felt sudden, whereas others were hindered by a time skip that left me disconnected and unfamiliar with what had previously been established. But despite this initial distraction, the characters began to land for me towards the latter half and became a joy to read.
Emma Young does a great job of bringing attention to the finer details of what it takes to make a relationship—whether it be between a romantic partner or a profession—truly work. Full of love, resilience, and a call to support the local businesses that bring life and character to our cities, this story will have you anticipating your next visit to your local bookshop.