Book Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted (Robert Hillman, 2019)

Great title and cover. Depressing plot and sleepy characters.

The story takes place in 1960s Australia and centers around Tom Hope, a farmer named appropriately for his optimism. Yet, that is all Tom really has. His first wife leaves him, comes back pregnant, delivers a child named Peter, leaves for good a couple of years later, and Tom is left to raise a child that isn’t his. He bonds with the child, and then his ex-wife reappears and takes custody of the child. Tom is heartbroken. The reader continues, in hopes that Tom’s fortunes will eventually improve.

Later, Tom meets a lady who restores his hope. Hannah, an immigrant from Hungary, is an Auschwitz survivor who loses a husband and a son in the infamous camp. Alternating chapters flash back to her time as a prisoner there. Broken, she finds a new beginning in Tom. Despite an age difference of more than a decade between them, they seem to be just what the other needs. They find solace in each other. A power couple in the small Australian town of “Hometown.” Tom continues to work the farm, and Hannah begins a bookshop in an attempt to bring some culture to her new neighbors. The reader starts to see a great story developing.

Meanwhile, Peter’s life is falling apart without Tom. His mother has brought him into a very dysfunctional environment. At one point, Peter escapes and makes an epic journey back to Tom, only to be rejected by Hannah, who is unable to move past the grief of the death of her only son. Peter is returned to his toxic environment, and the book becomes a struggle to continue reading.

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At that point, I decided to persevere and finish the story, but I’m not sure what the takeaways were intended to be. Altogether, it was not an enjoyable read. Tom is a doormat, Peter is helpless, and Hannah is difficult to endure, despite her tragic background. Although there were moments of great prose along the way, I didn’t care for the plot as a whole. It felt like I was chasing a stick, and I finally got it when I didn’t care one way or the other anymore.

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