When French author Cossé (A Corner of the Veil, 1999, etc.) pairs unlikely business partners in the opening of a unique Parisian bookstore, The Good Novel, that will sell only the best fiction, their venture succeeds and draws vehement criticism—and worse.
The selection process at The Good Novel, owned and backed by the lovely Aldo-Valbella Francesca and run by Ivan Georg, is rigorous. Members of a secret committee of writers and bibliophiles compile novels that they consider superior to the usual bestseller-list folderol. Their bookstore is a success. But almost immediately detractors publish diatribes accusing The Good Novel’s proprietors and denizens of snobbery. Worse, someone is pasting these attacks up around town. When attempts are made against the lives of several members of the selection committee, Ivan and Francesca turn to the law in the person of a publishing-industry veteran turned cop, Gonzague Heffner, to determine how it is that seemingly coordinated thugs have learned the meticulously concealed identities of committee members. Is there a centralized plot by publishing interests to overthrow the upstart store, or are these the isolated jabs of irate inferior writers who take issue with the store’s exclusive policies? As the investigation unfolds, rival bookstores open, initially strong sales falter, and it becomes clear that the attacks are a reaction to the very concept of quality in literature. This mystery is however incidental to larger themes of what superlative work in the literary sphere constitutes. Not without its surprises, the book doesn’t quite live up to the high literary standards that its characters apply. While the central mystery stalls and dissipates without satisfactory resolution, the central conceit—what place is there for great and often difficult literature in a mercenary world—is manifest in the plight of the store and the disruptive influence it has on critics and booksellers the world over. The book’s real strength is its romances—of both the bookish and human varieties. In attention to matters of the heart the story is redeemed, delivering a touché where its original thrust misses the mark.
A literary idyll preselected for bookworms and bibliophiles.