The Bookshop on the Shore
Jenny Colgan is insistent that The Bookshop on the Shore is not a sequel to The Bookshop on the Corner, and is adamant the novel can be read as a standalone. She is absolutely right that The Bookshop on the Shore stands alone perfectly well; however significant life events happen to the heroine from The Bookshop on the Corner in this novel, so fans who long for more of Nina and her quirky friends and community will be happy to know she plays a small but significant role in this book.
Zoe O’Connell is having a really hard time. Her son, Hari, who is four years of age, doesn’t talk. The doctors call it a social anxiety disorder and speak discouragingly of medication. Jazz, Hari’s father, is a jobless DJ who races from one adventure to another, paying zero child support as he larks about. Zoes’s job at a posh nursery is precarious since she keeps having to take time off from caring for other people’s children as she deals with her own. She has just been told she is up for a rent reappraisal for the musty, rather shabby studio she and Hari are living in now. She takes pride in her independence but the latter is the final straw for her. She reaches out to Jazz for help but he can’t really offer any except to introduce her to his sister Surinder, who is a “fairy godmother for sorting everything out”.
Before Zoe quite knows what’s happened, Surinder has organized her into two new jobs and a home. She and Harry are packed off to Scotland, to a castle on the shores of Loch Ness where Zoe will serve as au pair to Shackleton, who is twelve, Mary aged nine, and Patrick age five, mornings and evenings in exchange for room and board. She is off duty during the afternoons, when she will take over Nina’s bookshop/book van since Nina has been sidelined with a health issue. They have free nursery places in Scotland, so Hari will have somewhere to go while Zoe sells novels. It should, according to Surinder, all work out wonderfully.
But of course it doesn’t. Zoe struggles to drive the van and is even worse at selling books.There is little hot water in the castle for bathing and her room is haunted. Her three young charges have run off six nannies before her and are gleefully awful in their efforts to be rid of her as well. Single father Ramsay Urquart is essentially a no-show in their lives and struggles to remember Zoe’s name when he does make an appearance. Her situation had been desperate before but it seems almost impossible now. One look out the window, though, at the beauty and majesty that is the Scottish Highlands, has Zoe determined to make this work.
Fans of Ms. Colgan know that a staple of her novels is the heroine type I refer to as ‘hot mess Cinderella’. The books revolve around these ladies, who never have it all together and are typically going through a massive life change/crisis when the tale begins. Their pluck and courage see them through the rough start and their warm, vibrant nature turns everything around them into a success. Like most other Colgan heroines, Zoe is sweet but not zany, forgiving but ultimately nobody’s doormat and she is kind, a natural homemaker and fun. She has the sort of personality that just makes things better. It’s not that she’s a Susie Sunshine, always looking on the bright side, but that she genuinely cares about the people around her and has a knack for communicating that care in just the way it is needed. This is a tremendous change for Shackleton, Mary and Patrick who are clearly missing any kind of parental relationship in their lives. With their absentee mother and distant father, they’ve pretty much run wild for years. Zoe changes that and works miracles in doing so.
I won’t lie here. Anyone reading the novel who has been around children will know that the changes to the Urquart kids’ personalities happen too easily and too quickly. However, that works to underline the charming, rather enchanting nature of the book. This is less a real story than a feel good story, the kind of humorous, saccharine tale that only imitates real life and doesn’t actually reflect reality. Instead, it shows a grand dream all of us have; that if we just find the right place and the right people, our lives will supernaturally take the form they are meant to have.
That’s what happens here. Not everything is fixed – Mary has serious emotional issues that need addressing, Zoe’s solution to the bookselling dilemma doesn’t thrill Nina – but enough things work out well that we can see that Zoe is where she is meant to be. There is even a romance, albeit a very last minute thing, tacked onto the end of the tale. The author tends towards two hero types – the grump with the heart of gold or the warm hearted doofus whose cluelessness about things makes him endearing rather than dumb or annoying. I’m not a big fan of the former, so I’m glad it’s the latter that makes an appearance in this novel. I won’t give his name since there are several possibilities strewn throughout and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
I had one very minor quibble with this novel and that was that it had a slow and a tad irritating start. I felt overwhelmed by everything going wrong in Zoe’s life and annoyed by how she couldn’t seem to figure out how to handle it. That ironed out by a quarter of the way through the narrative and I was completely delighted by the rest of the tale.
The Bookshop on the Shore will gratify and amuse Ms. Colgan’s fans and should please anyone who enjoys mildly quirky women’s fiction.