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Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater - Review

Sunday, September 3, 2023

I have been hearding about Death of a Bookseller all over the place so I knew I wanted to read it soon! I don't follow Alice on twitter but I know people who do and she always seems like a really solid person so I was excited to read this. I happened to catch a tweet when it was 99p so I bought it on Kindle and picked it up in mid August. I am sort of behind with reviews so these might all appear in a weird order for a while - I'm sorry! I'm sure they'll be fine to read though. But yes I picked this up over a month ago and was very excited for it.

It really did not disappoint! It is a great, compelling, weird, horrible little book. I will get on to the plot in a minute but I do want to talk about true crime for a minute and the way that women especially consume it and the way that the tide is turning on that. I didn't mention it in my review for Penance by Eliza Clark because my review was already long enough but Dolly in that book was obsessed with true crime and called herself a "Columbiner" ie someone obsessed with the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre (something which I remember alllll too clearly, being fifteen at the time) and Roach in this book is also obsessed with true crime. And it's true that women tend to be more interested in true crime and I do think there are interesting reasons for that (I once read something suggesting that it's because by knowing so much about it we believe we can keep ourselves safe or something, even though most violence against women and girls is perpetrated by people already known to them... I think there's some truth in this, but I digress...) and I do think that some people are drawn to the really icky and gruesome parts of it and that that's a bit of a problem. I like some true crime myself, I won't pretend I won't, but I have also lived through something which got reported on in the (local) paper and it's really horrible, so I do wonder about the families of those left behind. For instance, if you're writing about Jack the Ripper that feels fine because everyone involved is dead, but if you're writing about the Yorkshire Ripper you're still dealing with very much alive people who are still living with the consequences of Peter Sutcliffe's actions and how should that impact upon them? But I will say I consume true crime media too so I'm far from perfect - I just think it's interesting that it feels like we're all very much part of this conversation too. Alice did a brilliant job I think in making the reader think beyond just the headlines and I am so happy that intelligent fiction like this is coming to the fore. 

So, the story. First of all there is Laura. She is mid 20s, living alone in a cheap flat in Walthamstow, and she works for national bookseller Spines. She moves around though - she's on a team that goes into a shop to try to improve it if it's underperforming. On this team are Sharona, the boss, and Eli, with whom Laura has an ongoing will they won't they kind of thing. Laura's mum was murdered when she was a teenager and she writes found poetry around this subject, also performing at poetry nights. She drinks too much and appears to not actually eat anything throughout the whole book. She also has certain style things that I did feel were cultivated to give her like a 'look' rather than it being her actual personality. For example, she wears rose perfume oil, and always matches her cardigans to her ballet flats. I feel like I knew this girl back in like 2006! But I did like Laura and sympathised with her throughout. 

Then there's Roach. She's twenty four and she works in the bookshop and has since she was sixteen. Her first name is Brogan but she's known as Roach as there was another Brogan in the shop years ago. She is obsessed with true crime but she's not like the "normy" girls who listen to all the podcasts. When she meets Laura she immediately clicks on to the somewhat shared interest in true crime and is certain that if Laura just gave her a chance they would get on brilliantly. But she's just way too full on, the whole time, and Laura is put off by that. Plus Roach is obsessed in a way that Laura isn't, having living through something traumatic herself, so she just tries to keep Roach at arm's length. But Roach just will not take no for an answer and ends up going way, way too far in trying to befriend Laura and emulate her too. 

I did feel some sympathy for Roach. She is a really awkward person and really just wants to be loved. She really reads as autistic or otherwise not neurotypical to me which I feel impacts on how she acts towards people. She is frustrating but I think a lot of us would empathise with at least one part of her personality. I couldn't work out where exactly the book was going but it was a really good ending - it fitted well and may not have been what everyone wanted but I think in context it really worked. 

I also think that the shop itself is almost a character in this book! I saw someone who used to work at Waterstones say that it was a really truthful look at bookselling and it certainly felt that way. It felt like the author had drawn back the curtain to show us all the good and bad parts of working in a bookshop. 

I am so glad I read this and I'll definitely read something else by Alice. I'm giving this five out of five for being so compelling, slightly gross in parts, and just so well written! 

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