Esme Garland is studying art history at Columbia and falling in love with New York City. She has her undergraduate degree from Oxford, and has mastered that very English trait of making allusions to literature at all times and in all places. (Did you catch that one?)
Early in her visit to study in the US she meets and falls in love with Mitchell van Leuven, wealthy scion of old New York society. She accidentally becomes pregnant but before she gets a chance to tell Mitchell about it he breaks up with her. He wanders back later and and it takes most of the book for Esme to figure him out. But the reader knows a sadistic monster when she sees him in print and the balance of the story is Esme's struggle to deal with her love for him and her increasingly difficult life and cloudy future. Her salvation comes from a small independent bookstore on Broadway and 87th, based it would seem on the real bookstore, Westside Books, where the author worked for four years.
The Bookstore tickled me. A quick glance at the reviews on Goodreads points out that it doesn't tickle everybody. Some are put off by those allusions I mentioned, which must put them off most of modern English fiction. Others thought it was a bit too close to chick lit to be convincing. None of them seemed to notice Meyler's sometimes laugh-out-loud humor often drawn from our mutual misunderstanding of the English language:
The first gallery I went to in New York was the Met - like everyone else - and I saw a sign that said "No strollers on the weekend" so I zipped through all the rooms at breakneck speed, looking reprovingly at people if they seemed likely to loiter. When I reached the picture I most wanted to see -- Garden at Vaucresson by Vuillard, whose exuberant joy you can feel as you walk into the room -- I barely stopped to look at it for fear of Met officials bearing down on me with a loud-speaker: "Miss! No strolling! Step along there, miss. Look lively. It's the weekend."
Esme's witty comebacks in dialogue and her clever interior monologue are unusual in such a romantic, although not entirely predictable love story. They intrigued me and sent me off to figure out where the ones I didn't catch came from. (I need to determine who said, "That I should love a bright particular star." Is it from a sonnet? Shakespeare? It must be Shakespeare. I really should know this . . .) These quotes and allusions add greatly to the pleasure of reading about the characters who frequent the store and about this young woman whose self-doubt slowly -- and sometimes quickly -- segues into a feeling of solid self, a process most of us went through in our youth, though not in so entertaining a way.