Review Blog

Aug 29 2019

The bookshop of the broken hearted by Robert Hillman

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Text Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781922268228.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Themes: Love, Loss, Grief, Parenting, Child custody, Abuse.
Stoic hardworking Tom Hope leads a simple life caring for his farm in Victoria, but it all comes undone when his wife Trudy leaves him. She returns and leaves more than once, each time causing him further anguish and heartbreak, taking with her the son he had grown to love. It seems like he is just not made to be a husband or a father.
But when an exotic stranger arrives to set up a bookshop in the local country town, Tom dares to hope again. Hannah Babel is beautiful, vibrant and emotional, she tells him she adores him. But Hannah is a Hungarian Jew, a survivor of Auschwitz, scarred by the loss of her husband and her son. Tom is careful, he doesn't want to get this relationship wrong, but the grief and loss in both their pasts will ultimately test their chance for happiness.
Hillman has perfectly recreated the country town, the characters and the way people talk, the down to earth humour and the gossip. The newcomer, Hannah, is such a vivid personality, she dresses with style and her conversation bubbles with intellectual topics, politics and books. It is easy to picture Tom and Hannah, his cautiousness and patience, and her rollercoaster of emotions. But beneath that, both are dealing with deep-felt grief. Tom's son, however, is not dead - he is trapped in another town, suffering abuse and longing to return to his father and old home. Little Peter is the final tension, the spring that may set them all apart.
This is a thoroughly engrossing story, of the strength of parental love, one of desolation but ultimately also of hope.
Helen Eddy

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