Just as some people have their “summer reading”, those books that are immediately identified as being perfect for the beach or by the pool, I find there are books which say “winter” or “wet afternoon”: these are the kind of books you want to curl up with in front of a fire, clutching a glass of Shiraz. The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (released in America as The storied life of A.J. Fikry), is one of those books. It is sentimental (OK, a bit mushy) but ultimately charming.
A.J. Fikry is the staid and slightly uptight owner of Island Books, the less than imaginatively named bookshop on Alice Island, off fashionable Hyannis, in Massachusetts. It’s highly dependent on the annual summer influx of well-heeled tourists. Fikry has retreated further into his shell after the death of his wife, becoming more morose and eccentric, which includes long conversations with her ghost.
As the briefing note to Amelia, the enthusiastic new representative for Knightley Press, warns, Island Books has “poor community outreach” and Fikry “can’t be counted on to handsell”. Put plainly, he doesn’t like people and customers can buy what the store stocks, or not. As if to prove the point Fikry quickly sends Amelia and her carefully chosen Advanced Reading Copies packing.
But all that is about to change. First, Fikry is robbed of a priceless first edition, his next egg; then a young woman is found dead, washed up on the beach. And finally, Fikry discovers Maya, a baby is found abandoned amongst the serried bookcases in his store. Fikry is smitten but he couldn’t possibly keep the baby, could he? On his own, probably not, but then the wise and slightly wily local Police Chief steps in to negotiate the intricacies of the bureaucratic byways, and Island Books has a brand new edition.
Soon the engaging Maya is running the show. She’s the catalyst for a children’s book club, then an adult reading group. The question is, has Fikry left it too late to win the heart (and book catalogue) of the charming Ms Loman?
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is not going be everyone’s cup of tea. However, just as with books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrow, it will charm you with the redemptive power of love. There are some nice touches too, such as the introduction to each chapter that reads like the recommendation signs bookshop staff stick in front of the books.
The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is published by Little, Brown and has just been released in Australia by Hachette.