Book Review for “The Mayfair Bookshop” by Eliza Knight.
Summary: “1938: She was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly dazzling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping to make ends meet, and discovers a new life. Present Day: When book curator Lucy St. Clair lands a gig working at Heywood Hill she can’t get on the plane fast enough. Not only can she start the healing process from the loss of her mother, it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author. Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Contemporary; UK – London (mostly); Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Dual Timelines, Romance.
I’ve been wanting to read a book by Knight for quite some time – in fact, ever since I read her short story in Ribbons of Scarlet. However, to be honest, the vast majority of her books are a bit too romancey for my taste. This, however, was right up my alley, and when I was turned down for the ARC I just went out and bought my own print copy! Now, my regular readers know that I spent about 10 days in Ireland recently to attend writing workshops and do some touring. The two author mentors for this were Heather Webb and yes… you guessed it, Eliza Knight! Silly me that I forgot my copy of her book at home so I couldn’t get it signed, but she very kindly sent me a signed sticker (and a lovely card) that I immediately put on the dedication page. With those personal connections aside, I can now get to my review.
So… I think many of my regular readers know that I’m starting to get a bit tired of the dual timeline mechanic. That said, I’ve also noted that if there is a good reason for a second timeline, it can be extremely effective. To be totally honest, I believe that this would have been a complete story if it had stayed only within the historical setting. However, I do understand the reasons why Knight decided she wanted the present-day timeline included. One reason was to add a bit of a mystery to the story, giving Lucy a puzzle to solve, which adds interest. Another reason was to connect history to today, making it more relevant for modern readers. The last reason was to include an extra element of romance. Remember that Knight’s vast back-list of novels are historical romance, and I’m guessing that she couldn’t resist having a few romantic story arcs in this novel. Thankfully, there’s no bodice ripping here. Also, Knight kept Lucy’s sections very short and succinct, in order to make sure that the main focus was on Nancy, which I very much appreciated.
As for our main protagonist here, Nancy Mitford, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read any of her books. That’s something I’ll have to remedy one day, but obviously I’d heard of her. Where Knight really shins here is in her portrayal of Nancy. Yes, I know this is fiction, but the author’s notes at the end assured me that Knight did her research meticulously for this book. True, weaving just the right number of facts into a work of fiction is, I believe, the hardest part of historical fiction. In this case, Knight brought them together into a marvelous, three-dimensional tapestry. Knight shows us a woman filled with passion, and compassion; a woman who wants her writings to reflect her life, even when her own reality makes her question her own worth – as both a woman and a writer. Knight doesn’t shy away from the bouts of depression that Nancy suffered through, and we often wonder where Nancy got the inner strength to battle those demons.
All told, I was enthralled with Nancy, and how Knight handled the various difficult stages of Nancy’s life. Could I have done without Lucy? In truth, I probably could have, which makes me glad she didn’t get equal billing or stage time here. That said, I can see where many readers will disagree with me about Lucy and the contemporary timeline, and they will be the readers and reviewers who might feel they didn’t get enough of Lucy. No matter if you’re in agreement with me or not, this is truly a lovely novel, any way you slice it. That’s why I’m very warmly recommending it to lovers of historical, biographical, women’s fiction – especially those who like to know more about female writers. I think this means it deserves four and a half stars out of five!
William Morrow released “The Mayfair Bookshop” by Eliza Knight on April 22, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.