The Grandest Bookshop in the World is a fictional magical realism novel, but it is based on a real bookshop that existed in Melbourne in 1883. The Cole family and all its members were real as well. Ruby Cole did die at the same age in the book from scarlet fever.
Also, just as in the novel, the book arcade was so much more than just a bookshop. All the departments that are visited in the book, existed in the real world as well. Toy Land, Wonder Land, The Tea Salon, the fernery, all the animals, it must have been a wonder to see.
As much a wonder as the arcade must have been to see, Pa, or Edward William Cole, the father, is the true marvel. A man who lived before the times. A man whose opinion and views were regarded by many as scandalous. You see Edward Cole believed in equality for all. He abhorred racism. He believed that everybody, regardless of race, class, sex, deserved the same rights. He employed a multi-cultural staff and believed that education, as well as a right, was essential to life.
With this amazing bookshop as a background Amelia Mellor has crafted a wonderfully magical tale and a great yarn.
Edward Cole, grief-stricken with the death of his daughter Ruby, makes a deal with a devilish, and a highlight of the book for me, character who calls himself Magnus Maximillian. Magnus is a character straight from “Alice in Wonderland” or “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”. An enigma, dripping with magic and guile. He is a creature who lives to cheat and thrives on deals that are skewed to always benefit himself while leaving the other partner in the deal bereft and lost at the least, dead and in the ground at the worst.
Magnus makes a deal with Edward to bring Ruby back to the family, but the cost is the bookshop. Edward is magically linked to the bookshop so as he slowly loses possession of the shop, he slowly loses his lifeforce as well, withering away before his family’s eyes.
Two of the Cole children, Valley and Paula, decide to make another deal with Magnus, with the intention of retaining the ownership of the bookshop and saving the life of their father. They agree to solve seven puzzles, seven puzzles that must all be completed in a time limit. If they fail one puzzle, they lose.
What follows is a magical race against time. The puzzles are all unique, but very solvable, and it is a joy trying to solve them along with the children while you read. They may be unique, but all are deliberated at a frantic pace, and all of them, if failed, will result in the children’s death.
Now I may be many years in age above the targeted audience, but I loved this book and could not put it down. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is to never lose the inner child that lives within all of us. After reading and enjoying this book so very much, I realized that my inner child is still alive and kicking. The last puzzle and Paula’s answer is simply beautiful. 5 stars.
Amelia Mellor began her writing career as her secondary school's resident playwright in Year 11. As part of her creative writing course at the University of Melbourne, she completed a thesis on the reinvention of the Industrial Revolution in children's fantasy literature. In 2018 she won the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust's Ian Wilson Memorial Fellowship for "The Grandest Bookshop in the World".
Her other writing credits include a 2018 ASA Award Mentorship and a finalist place in the 2016 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writer's Contest. When she isn't writing, Amelia enjoys hiking, gardening and drawing. She is an English teacher in regional Victoria.