Published by Abacus
Publication date – 23 April 2015
Source – review copy
Originally published as The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry.
“”Who the hell are you?” A.J. asks the baby.
For no apparent reason, she stops crying and smiles at him. “Maya,” she answers.
That was easy, A.J. thinks. “How old are you?” he asks.
Maya holds up two fingers.
Maya smiles again and holds up her arms to him.”
A.J. Fikry, the grumpy owner of Island Books, is going through a hard time: his bookshop is failing, he has lost his beloved wife, and a prized rare first edition has been stolen.
But one day A.J. finds two-year-old Maya sitting on the bookshop floor, with a note attached to her asking the owner to look after her. His life – and Maya’s – is changed forever.”
My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.
Having just finished a book about books and bookshops I asked the hive mind that is social media for suggestions of other books that celebrate novels, bookshops and booklovers. One of the most suggested titles was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and when the publisher offered me a copy I of course had to say accept.
A.J. Fikry runs Island Books, the only book store on Alice Island. He spends his days begrudgingly selling books he doesn’t like to people he doesn’t care for, ignoring the pile of reading copies sent by publishers and spends his nights trying to drink himself to death. His life begins to change for the better when he first meets Amelia, the new rep from a publishers. After a rather rude meeting he gets drunk and finds that a very expensive book has been stolen from him. On the brink he leaves his bookshop open one day only to return to find that someone has left a little girl there. A little girl who changes his life in ways he cannot imagine.
I picked this book up with the intention of just gaining an idea as to whether I would like to read it. I soon found myself well engrossed in the delightful and moving story of A.J. Fikry and his friends.
A.J. is one of the most delightfully taciturn curmudgeonly characters I’ve read. His grumpiness is endearing rather than annoying and despite himself he makes friends, becomes a father, finds love and becomes one of the key people on the island of Alice. At the beginning of the book, he is surviving, just. He is saved from trying to drink himself to death by the theft of a book and the finding of Maya. He is not the only character that is wonderfully portrayed. Lambaise is a great police officer, meeting A.J. at a traumatic time in his life, there again when A.J. finds Maya. He encourages A.J. to look outside his own closed off little world, to start to live again. A.J. in turn introduces Lambaise to the world of fiction, something he had shied away from after being discouraged at school, he gives Lambaise a friend and he comes to be like a member of the family. Maya is precocious and just what A.J. needs to come alive again. They give each other meaning and despite not being his biological child, are easily made for each other, drawn together by their love for the bookshop. Amelia is a wonderful counter balance to A.J. and lends comedy to the story, balancing out the grumpiness of A.J. perfectly.
As for Island Books, I would dearly love to take two buses and a ferry to visit the purple weather board building, to wander around, browsing the shelves before buying a newly discovered treasure.
There is something wonderfully surreal about this story, and I say this as someone who is not a fan of surrealism. The language used lends a magical air to the tale and it propels you through the story, meaning you find yourself at the end before you know it. I don’t want to say too much more about the story as the joy really is in finding out for yourself.
This is a book that celebrates the written word, the diverse nature of fiction and the joy that books can bring.
For all of us there is a beginning and an end, it’s just the bit in the middle that’s the fascinating part of the story. It was a pleasure to read about A.J.’s journey.