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A VERY SPECIAL YEAR by Thomas Montasser


by Thomas Montasser ; translated by Jamie Bulloch

Pub Date: July 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-780-74866-5
Publisher: Oneworld Publications

When Valerie’s elderly aunt Charlotte goes missing, she must step in to take care of business at the old Ringelnatz & Co. bookstore.

Valerie’s life was on an orderly course until her aunt disappeared, leaving a note that simply said her niece was to manage affairs in her absence. The young woman had been attending business school and enjoyed decent-enough companionship with her boyfriend. When she arrives at Ringelnatz, the shop is a mess. Books are arranged haphazardly, and the accounting system’s nonexistent. There’s also a pregnant rat which oddly doesn’t seem to bother Valerie in the least. In time, she considers the rodent a dear friend, feeding and caring for it like a modern-day Disney princess. In his debut novel, German literary agent Montasser pens a love letter to literature in the form of this story of a bookseller with a magical ability to prescribe just the right book for each of her customers. And one mysterious book—which Valerie initially presumes is defective because of its missing pages—causes the young woman to question what is and is not possible both on and off the page. Through her interactions with customers and letters from satisfied readers, Valerie begins to see the charm amid chaos at Ringelnatz, thus challenging her to reflect on her own life. In a story set in a bookstore, references to authors and literature are to be expected, and this is no exception. But the name-dropping adds little, if anything, to the story. This anemic novel, translated from German, is told by a distant narrator who is sometimes poetic but more often pretentious.

While attempting to be whimsical and delightful, this tiny novel feels just a bit too precious and pleased with itself. In the end, it’s not so special.