Book Review: The Last Bookshop by Emma Young, Fremantle Press

One for the bibliophiles: a small, bespoke business striving for survival in the top end of town.

Bookworms will love this book. It is part romance but also a delightful tale of the owner of a bookshop and her customers. Emma Young writes in a vivid, compelling style. The Last Bookshop is set in Perth, WA in 2016.

We meet Cait (Caitlyn) Cooper who runs the last small business in the area – a stored called Book Fiend. She is also a cat person, her feline is named Macduff (or ‘The Duffer’ ) and her car is called Dent. We have terrific descriptions of Book Fiend and lots of mentions of various exciting books (They will make you want to read them).

The smell and touch of paper copies are celebrated. Book Fiend has a specially designed layout with an enticing collection of both second-hand books and new releases, with a rolling ladder to reach the high shelves and cosy nooks to collapse and read in. 

We also meet several of Cait’s regular customers including Max, Dorothy, June and Mr Cowper. Plus there are wickedly delightful descriptions of Cait’s various interactions with nice customers, (‘Her smile was insultingly white. She asked for the fitness section, turning her body slightly towards the body of the store, poised to be led quietly along like a well-bred racehorse. Her spotless white blouse was sheer enough to be sexy and old-fashioned enough to be sweet’) contrasted with some horrible ones.

Cait also provides a mobile home delivery service for those unable to visit the bookshop in person. The book is cross-generational, filled with youthful computer nerds and tech-savvy seniors – reminding us of the the way technology can help those physically isolated stay in touch with others. (A warning  though, you may need a box of tissues towards the end).

On one level it is about a small business battling unfeeling global franchises. The profit margins are stretched and top luxury franchises in the high-demand city location edge out the neighbouring businesses like the newsagency and the bakery. Cait’s shop is the last one left … then the rent is drastically increased and she can’t afford its upkeep any longer.

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We also meet her assistant Sebastian, who started as a casual staffer and proves to be a computer whizz, and follow the rollercoaster of her relationship with both Seb and ‘mystery shopper’ James, who becomes her boyfriend. He works for a big property management company that just happens to be Cait’s landlord.

Will James and Cait stay together? Can they rebuild their relationship after its rocky snags? 

Included in the busy narrative are also natty descriptions of Warwick Randell, James’ boss who seeks to have Book Fiend closed down, and his pleasant and concerned executive assistant Greta.

We get a feeling for a great sense of kindness in Cait’s bookshop, of individual attention to customers rather than them being treated like a number. There’s camaraderie present and a shared cultural experiences with the local community rallying around to support the area’s small businesses. 

A most captivating and congenial read from a debut author. 

The Last Bookshop by Emma Young
Publisher: Fremantle Presss
ISBN: 9781925816303
Format: Paper back
Pages: 256pp
Release date: 2 March 2021
RRP: $32.99

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.