Book review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Now here’s a real treat… a book about books for book lovers. Throw in a cutesy little girl and a big-hearted storyline and you have a novel made in literary heaven.

Wednesday, 6th May 2015, 10:00 am
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Originally published as The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin’s New York Times bestseller won a rapturous reception around the world last year, clocking up over 8,500 reviews on Goodreads alone.

Republished with a new title and for a new audience, this extraordinary, exhilarating odyssey featuring a curmudgeonly book shop owner whose life is transformed by a child abandoned in his store, is as much about love, life and death as it is about the joys of reading.

Zevin, also known for her sparkling young adult novels, strikes a memorable and resonant chord in an entertaining, quirky and multi-genre novel which blends humour and romance with an achingly soulful slice of humanity.

Since his beloved wife Nic died in a car accident 21 months ago, A.J. Fikry, the owner of Island Books – the one and only book shop on Alice Island in Massachusetts – has become increasingly grumpy.

He is rude to reps, only stocks books he likes and freely admits that even though he loves books and owns a book store, he doesn’t particularly care for writers, finding them ‘unkempt, narcissistic, silly and generally unpleasant people.’

His one consolation is a rare first edition of Tamerlane, Edgar Allan Poe’s early collection of poems, which he keeps locked in a climate-controlled glass case in his attic apartment over the shop.

The book, valued at over $400,000, will be auctioned off in a couple of years and the proceeds will be his pension pot. But one drunken night, the book is stolen and A.J.’s retirement plans are put on hold.

Just as he thinks things can’t get any worse, someone leaves a two-year-old girl on the floor of his sparsely stocked children’s department with a note asking him to look after her and help her to grow up to be a reader.

She is the adorable, newly-orphaned Maya, a burden A.J. thinks he doesn’t want but one that he soon discovers is going to change his life forever…

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a paean to books, their power to shape who we are and how we look at the world. But it is not just a warm and witty homage to the gregarious world of reading and selling books; Zevin doesn’t let us forget that books are also about the people who read them… people with diverse lives and loves, lonely people, desperate people, people who need the company of other people.

Sentimental without being mawkish, marked by tragedy but still uplifting, and unashamedly romantic though never cloying, this lovely, charming, life-affirming story is a delight from its caustic opener to its exquisite dénouement.

Whether you are a book lover or simply a lover of life, this is one of the most captivating books you will read this year.

(Abacus, paperback, £7.99)