This is not the book that the title led me to think it was. It’s darker, more compelling and much more moving than I expected.
For me, the title “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” suggested an upbeat, novel about people who love books doing slightly mysterious, clever, perhaps witty things. Maybe something similar to “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”. That’s the kind of entertaining but not too challenging read I thought I’d signed up for.
Of course, the publisher’s summary told me that the book started with a suicide but when I read:
“When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.”
I thought the suicide would have all the emotional impact of a body found in a locked room in an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
This book isn’t a puzzle. It isn’t cute. It’s a story about a woman in her twenties, damaged by a night of violence when she was ten, for whom The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a place of refuge, not just a place of work. She is the bookseller who best connects with the “bookfrogs“, the damaged, often homeless, always slightly lost, people who hang around the bookstore for its warmth and shelter as well as its books.
Finding one of the youngest bookfrogs just after he suicides in the store is not the start of a puzzle to be unravelled, it is a traumatic event that is the first tremor in a quake that will collapse her understanding of her own past and leave her scrambling to stand in the rubble.
Violence, rage, lust, betrayal, and deception and the damage that they inflict on the young and defenceless are the engines of this book. There is a tightly plotted mystery that is skillfully unfolded so that my perceptions of people and events are constantly challenged and changed until what really happened is revealed.
The heart of this book is neither violence nor mystery but how children, damaged by not receiving the love that they need and have a right to expect from their parents, find solace in books and sometimes in each other. For these people books are not just escapism, they are the sofa-cushion fort children build to defend themselves from dragons, they are a search for identity and meaning, they are objects of love.
This is a book filled with sadness, with bad decisions, with love overpowered by guilt or loss and with the genuine evil that sometimes finds us.
It’s also a book about the persistence of the need for love and the possibility of survival through retaining the ability to be kind to others and yourself.
I listened to the audiobook version of “Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore” which is perfectly narrated by Madeleine Maybe. Listen to her performance on the SoundCloud link below