The Bookshop on the Quay’ by Patricia Lynch was a book find that I picked up serendipitously at a used book fair a couple of years ago.
I was immediately drawn to the title – who can resist a book with ‘Bookshop’ in its title and it’s beautiful, atmospheric cover design.
‘The Bookshop on the Quay’ certainly didn’t disappoint. The story is set in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950’s. The tale opens in the living room of the ‘Four Masters Bookshop’ situated on Ormond Quay in Dublin. It is a dark and cold autumn evening, the kind of evening that makes you thankful to be indoors, beside a cracking fire, in a cozy living room. Inside the living room are the bookseller – Eugene O’Clery, his wide, two children – son Patrick and nine year old Bridgie, a cat called Mog and Bridgie’s beloved rag doll called Migeen. The Widow Flanagan, housekeeper to the O’Clery’s presided over the evening meal and the O’Clery’s are eating their meal, some of them with books propped up against milk jugs – enjoying the treasure of books in their bookshop.
There is a cruel east wind blowing in from Dublin Bay and Bridgie who is looking out of the window, spies a forlorn, waif-like young boy who is staring at a copy of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ that is displayed in the bookshop window. The young boy is Shane Madden, who has embarked on a trail of discovery, all the way from Ballylicky, near the Cork Road. The O’Clery’s find out that the orphan boy is searching for his beloved Uncle Tim, a drover, who Shane has reason to believe has visited Dublin recently.
The kind O’Clery’s feel sorry for the young boy, so alone in the world and offer him a warm meal and a place to stay for the night. They learn about his fondness for books – in particular ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, which Uncle Tim had once given Shane as a present.
There are various trails that point in the direction of Uncle Tim but many of them lead to disappointment. Whilst Shane is looking for his Uncle, the O’Clery’s decide to give Shane a job as shop boy in their bookshop – a job that Shane loves and cherishes. Despite the tribulations Shane faces in looking for his Uncle, he finds new purpose to his life and finds great satisfaction and happiness with the O’Clerys.
This is a lovely book filled with examples of genuine human kindness. The O’Clery’s are the loveliest people. They are a good example that bookish people are often the most empathetic.
Some of the things I loved about this book :-
Firstly, the setting. One developed a sense of the Dublin streets and the people, how they lived and worked in the big city. Another thing I absolutely loved was the sense of Autumn that pervaded the book. Especially the opening scene, where the family are gathered cozily together inside against the cruel Autumn wind – is especially evocative. There’s a particular chapter dedicated to Halloween and how the neighbourhood children dress up and celebrate the festival.
Mrs O’Clery was a favourite character. One got a sense that she was a trifle absentminded and forever reading her book and knitting and perhaps not paying attention to domestic details. Mr O’Clery wit his penchant for buying old, vintage books and not having the heart to sell them or part with them- was another very lovable and funny character. I could identify with this trait of his.
‘Bookshop on the Quay’ was a fantastic, atmospheric, bookish read. A perfect book for Autumn too. I hope you can find a copy of this elusive, forgotten Puffin Classic, which I think should be better known.