Book Review: Emma Young’s The Last Bookshop is a love song to bookshops and small businesses to warm your heart

The Last Bookshop

Cait Copper loves books. As the owner of Hay Street independent bookshop, Book Fiend, she doesn’t have time for any other kind of love in her life; unless you count the weekly deliveries she makes to her housebound clients. She goes to work, deals with the gamut of questions about why her stock is so much more expensive than online, and comes home to her cat, Macduff.

So when a good looking man starts hanging around in her self help and relationships section right around the time when a monolithic leasing agent decides it would quite like to put a luxury brand outlet in her place, the timing is, needless to say, a bit off. Throw in Cait’s fiesty former nanny, June, and you have a recipe for a really, really great read.

The Last Bookshop is the debut novel from journalist and former Perth bookseller, Emma Young. Shortlisted for the inaugural Fogarty Literary Award (an unpublished manuscript competition for under 35s worth $20 000 run by Fremantle Press and the Fogarty Foundation), the novel gets to the heart of the sense of a community that a bookshop or a family run business can provide.

Using a number of real city bookshops as its basis, Young imagines what the Perth CBD might be like in a world where there is only one left, and takes real and invented details from the changing face of retail on Hay Street and its surrounds. The Last Bookshop is set during 2016, a particularly difficult year in retail, and references the closure of Borders and the near closure of the Dymocks Hay Street branch; a decision which was reversed after outpourings of love from regular customers and WA book-lovers.

Truly a love letter to what a good bookshop can represent in its community, this book serves as a timely reminder not to take your favourite small businesses for granted. This is especially pertinent at a time when current world events and competition from discount online outlets is once again threatening their survival.

Young cleverly evokes the different settings of her novel, from the shopping district of the CBD to the unsealed driveways and cicadas of Perth’s more hilly suburbs, as Cait navigates her way through life (and traffic) in her trusty car, Dent.

There is a little bit of something for everyone in The Last Bookshop, from romance to pathos. In particular, Cait’s relationships with her regular customers ring true for anyone who has ever worked behind the counter of a shop. Having worked in a bookshop myself (which, eerily, also closed in 2016) I found many of the interactions Cait deals with very familiar to me; from the customers who wanted a paper bag to disguise their purchases, to those who would come in for a browse and later buy online from a certain website which shall remain nameless.

But, The Last Bookshop also captures the wonderful moments between bookseller and reader, reminding those spending time among its pages of why we love bookshops – personalised recommendations, special orders and researching hard to find items, remembering details about your life and asking after your health.

It is a book that will make you want to rush out to your favourite indie bookshop and give your bookseller a hug. Seeing as there’s still a pandemic on and we shouldn’t necessarily be hugging, perhaps go and buy a book or two instead, and make sure one of them is The Last Bookshop, because it is a delight.

The Last Bookshop

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Last Bookshop by Emma Young is out now through Fremantle Press. Get your copy from your local bookshop! (Or from Booktopia HERE.)

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller and a future librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.

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