First published on 29th June, 2014 in The Star
Review by DAPHNE LEE
THE COLLECTED WORKS OF AJ FIKRY
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Little, Brown, 256 pages
Let me just start by saying that I really like this book. I enjoyed reading it and gobbled it up in one go. It’s a deliciously light and easy read, especially if you love books and bookshops, and if you fantasise about owning a bookshop, or falling in love with the owner of a bookshop. I admit I’m guilty on all counts.
However, A.J. Fikry, the protagonist of this book and the owner of Island Books (“Alice Island’s exclusive provider of fine literary content….”) is most certainly not the man of my dreams, and Island Books, at least when first encountered in Gabrielle Zevin’s novel, is not the sort of bookstore I would choose to spend much time in.
Even the darker aspects of the story – the heartache and betrayal, the death and disappointment – don’t cast long shadows, not because Zevin shrugs them off, but because her characters move on quickly. The fast pace, facilitated by Zevin’s use of the present tense, lifts the mood, discourages moping, and underlines the theme of transformation.
At the start of each chapter is an introduction, written by Fikry, to a short story. Their exact purpose won’t be clear right off, but if you’re a book lover, you’ll welcome these recommendations, and even if the stories are familiar, Fikry’s observations will make you want to revisit them.
Later, you will want to go back and re-read all the book notes. They will seem to say more, or, because of what you now know, you will read more into them.
They illustrate what I like most about reading – that books reveal different things to the reader depending on when they are read; that they mean different things depending on our age when we read them and what we’ve experienced at that point.
Fikry points this out in his note about The Luck Of Roaring Camp by Bret Hart. By this time in the novel, he’s no longer the annoying book snob of the early chapters, time and experience having made him wiser and kinder. He never does turn into my fantasy bookseller, but Fikry’s story is still one that warms me through and through, just like the best tales are meant to.