THE COLLECTED WORKS OF A.J. FIKRY
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Hachette RRP $26.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Every once in a while I come across a book that reminds me of what an absolute pleasure it is to read. The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry (aka The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) is one such book. I was captivated from the start by this short and sweet tale that’s set in a bookshop and is about books, reading and life. For me, it was one of those books where clever writing, a quirky tale, and ordinary but stand-out characters fuse into genuine reading pleasure. I read it in one sitting and finished it with a touch of sadness, because I simply wasn’t ready to leave the story behind.
Zevin assembles a charming cast of characters to tell her tale, from the grouchy (at first) A.J Fikry, owner of Island Books and recent widow, to new book sales representative Amelia, from abandoned toddler Maya to ‘not much of a reader’ police officer Lambiase, who starts a book club for police officers. When the characters first meet, they have no idea how important they will become in each others’ lives; relationships and friendships wax and wane, as do the characters’ stories as life inevitably goes on, no matter what happens.
I loved the stories and the way they connected in The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, but for me, this story was made even better because of its very bookish heart. It’s to embarrassing to admit, but I just had to read passages out to Blue Eyes after giggling my way through them. Early in the book there’s a monologue by A.J about his taste in books and while it was delivered with a tinge of book snobbery, I found it so amusing … and fairly spot on in regard to my own tastes. I had to wonder, was this the author sharing a part of herself?
‘Like,’ he repeats with distate. ‘How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, post-mortem characters or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be – basically, gimmicks of any kind.’
It goes on, but you get the picture. There’s another gorgeous passage in which an elderly woman wants to return the ‘worst book I have ever read in my eighty-two years’ because it was narrated by Death and kept her up all night, making her cry repeatedly. It was The Book Thief. For bookish nerds like me, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry abounds with book references (some obvious, others not so much), and I couldn’t get enough of it. And then of course, there was a lovely debate about print and electronic books, which always gets me going (my Kindle is convenient, but give me a print copy any day).
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is a character-driven book in which action takes a back seat … or does it? There’s no heart-stopping, nail-biting action, that’s true, but then the characters are ordinary people living ordinary lives; they work, play, sleep, eat, die … just like us. The action is represented by the movement of their lives, as circumstances and consequences combine to tell a story, sometimes moving them forward and other times holding them back. It’s life in action. So what is it about these characters and their stories that makes this book stand out? I think it comes down to Zevin’s skill in creating characters worth caring about, as well as the bigger theme that we are all part of a giant story, a collected work. For A.J., his collected works were not only his books, but the stories which make him the man he is, as well as the people around him – his community.
An absolute gem of a book, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is short on word count, but has plenty of emotional depth; I laughed, I smiled, I wiped away a tear or two. It’s one for book tragics like me, librarians, book shop owners … so, if that’s you, add this to your to-read list. I want to read it again.
Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.
Bookish treat: Reading this book was treat enough, but since you insist, a Lindt ball would do nicely. Two would be better.