BOOK CLUB: The Emporium of Imagination

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The Emporium of Imagination is the second published novel by award winning author Tabitha Bird.  Having loved her first book A Lifetime of Impossible Days, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of The Emporium, while at the same time feeling that qualm of fear wondering if her second book would be as good as her first. I needn’t have worried; this book is fabulous!

Set in Bird’s own hometown of Boonah in Queensland this novel deals, in a sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, always respectful, and definitely magical way with an emotion all of us have experienced, yet many deny—grief.

Grief comes in many forms, the death of a loved one, or a pet, the loss of a dream that may have been, harsh words said and unable to be taken back, guilt for actions taken, or opportunities missed. How many of us would like that chance to speak to our loved one just one more time, to say the words we wished we’d said, or just to tell them one more time what they meant to us. How many of us long to hear our loved one tell us they loved us; how sorry they are for decisions made that impacted our lives.

The Emporium of Imagination is a phantasmagorical shop that appears overnight in Boonah in February 2021, as it has been appearing in other towns all over the world for at least the last 10 years. Its outward appearance is never the same, but the process never varies, the custodian arrives at a place, the position for the shop becomes clear, the shop appears, the custodian must find ‘the shopkeeper’—the only person who will be able to open the shop—the key appears, the shop is opened, people with unresolved grief find notes in their pockets telling them of a phone call they are to receive, and to come to the Emporium to receive it.

The shop itself is full of amazing things, ladybirds that turn into lollipops when you catch them, cake mixes to ease your mental pain, shoes labelled ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ that when you try them on literally take you to places and times the shoes experienced, and telephones, all sorts of telephones, from pull along toy ones, to ornate antique phones, to rotary phones to iPhones. And for those with a note in their pocket, when their phone rings there will be no doubt the call is for them.

But this time something is different, the custodian Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, can’t sense the shopkeeper, or find the key to open the shop, and he’s only got 21 days left, and bits of him keep disappearing, and that darned ginger cat (why would anyone call a cat Mr Pickled Onions?) still keeps hanging around even though he really doesn’t like cats!

From the trauma of the tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March 2011, to abandonment, love, and loss in Boonah this book will hold you with wonder, delight, tears, and laughter as you let your imagination run wild with ‘what if…?’

For those who follow Tabitha Ann Bird on Facebook, and have watched the genesis of this amazing book, there will be things that you recognise, suggestions from followers (the door colour), things about the Emporium, things that Tabitha has written about in her posts from real life.  For those who don’t follow Tabitha on Facebook (if you like her work she’s a fun author to follow) the book will still be a brilliant read.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House Australia, and Beauty and Lace Book Club for the opportunity to read and review The Emporium of Imagination.

Highly recommended for lovers of magical realism, and an all-round great read. 5 stars.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

ISBN: 9781760895914 / Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia

10 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Emporium of Imagination

  1. This story had me enchanted and drawn in from the very first page. It is a heartwarming story of love, loss and grief centered in a magical shop that travels the world helping people open up and process their grief. The book centers around Earlatidge, Ann and Enoch and their individual journeys dealing with grief.

    The writing style is super descriptive and makes it easy to picture the Emporium and characters enjoying it.

    I haven’t read Tabitha Bird’s previous book but after finishing this book I plan to get my hands on a copy!

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  2. “The Emporium of Imagination” is a truly lovely book, although one that is also powerfully sad. It’s the perfect mixture of grief, love, hope, pain, and optimism. It isn’t always easy to read, but it’s likely to be hard to forget.

    Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, custodian of the Emporium, has just arrived in Boonah. A small Australian town, Boonah has a generous helping of griefs, regrets, and sorrows. It’s in need of the particular kind of healing that the Emporium offers.

    When Earlatidge arrives in Boonah, as is his custom, he establishes the Emporium and begins to look for the Shopkeeper – the Emporium finds a new one in every town they visit. But this time Earlatidge has someone else to find, urgently; he is dying, and has twenty days to find the new Custodian.

    Soon Earlatidge has Ann and Enoch in his sights. Both seem in need of the Emporium, but Earlatidge is uncertain of their exact relationship to it. And it’s crucial that he works it out.

    Halfway through this novel I realised that I had no idea where it was going. The plot seems straightforward enough, but Bird develops it in such a way that it becomes hard to see who’s going to do what, and what’s going to happen. That’s a good thing, of course – it’s rare that you want to read a novel where you know exactly what will unfold. It’s also unexpected, as the initial chapters deceptively suggest that the plot will be straightforward, and the characters the main focus.

    And the characters, oh! Each so distinct, each so alive. We feel their regrets and fears and sorrows so sharply, even those who have little more than a cameo. It is extraordinary. This is one of those rare books that made me cry. If you have ever tasted grief or regret, it may make you cry too.

    While the main theme of the novel would seem, on the surface, to be grief, it’s also about finding the optimism and resilence to move forward and shape your life to include and acknowledge that grief, without letting it distort your life. This is a delicate novel; it evokes so many different kinds of grief, without ever taking any lightly or making judgements.

    I enjoyed this novel far more than I can say. It’s outstandingly well written, with some of the most vivid characters I’ve seen in a while. It certainly canvasses a broad and dangerous emotional canvas with more delicacy and evocativeness than most novels can manage.

    If you are a classifier, this is magic realism, a genre I generally regard with some suspicion. Sometimes that’s just a way for writers to avoid developing a rationale for what happens in their novels. Here, though, it’s perfect. The magic is an essential part of the story, and the realism – the grounded characters, emotions, behaviour – is what gives it emotional punch.

    This is a novel you’ll be slow to forget, and which may cause you to look at people or events in your life a little differently. It would be hard to read this and not care about the characters. The plot unwinds in a way that feels utterly right and predestined, and yet comes with a series of small surprises.

    I’m not sure I can recommend this highly enough. I have no reservations about it – it’s a great novel.

    1. Hi Lorraine!
      Wow! What a beautiful review! Thank you for reading The Emporium of Imagination and for travelling with my characters throughout the story. Thank you also for letting yourself feel their pain and yet also see their hope and strength. The magic of readers is truly the best part about writing. Best, Tab.

  3. So hard to know how to describe The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird, and published by Penguin. It is a magical, mysterious and quite captivating book.

    Like many of its characters and the unusual shop of it’s title, this story is a bit different, a bit quirky, full of charm, conflicted emotions, grief and loss … but in the end unexpected joy and calm…

    To read this book is a bit like diving into a lucky dip – hard to know what to expect or what will be uncovered. And it is a real mix of magic and realism – certainly doesn’t shirk from discussing some quite confronting issues. Also despite it’s whimsical style it does have a very definite storyline which begins with the arrival of the Emporium and Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, it’s custodian, in the sleepy town of Boonah.

    Earlatidge is there to establish the shop, find it’s shopkeeper and unravel its mysteries to the next custodian. While the story is about the shop and it’s transformative and restorative powers, it is also primarily about the people who are touched by it. It follows Earlatidge’s personal journey of acceptance; And Ann’s, who came back to town to be with her dying grandmother; and it is young Enoch’s story, a sad little boy trying to come to terms with the death of his dad… There is a lot of grief. However in the end there is a greater amount of healing, hope and joy for what is yet to come.

    A strange and enchanting book which made me laugh and cry in equal measure.

    1. Hi Lyn!
      Thank you so much for your review! I’m so glad you met my characters and thank you for feeling into their stories. It’s such a joy to share my Emporium with readers. Thank you for reading my story to life.
      Best, Tab.

  4. Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read “The Emporium of Imagination” by Tabitha Bird.

    This is an absolutely beautiful, magical book. It is beautifully written & the characters are so well rounded & pull you into their stories of grief, hope & optimism.

    Reading this book, makes me want to take a trip back to Boonah again 🙂

  5. I lost my darling brother September last year and due to covid only got 20 minutes to see him tell him I love him. If only the Emporium of imagination was real. I would be able to contact him. I really enjoyed the book. A really emotional journey

  6. Thank you Beauty and lace for sending such a beautiful book to read. I was intrigued by this as soon as I saw the book cover and the title.
    It just felt magical and I instantly felt the connection with all characters, their pain and grief felt like I was experiencing it with them.

    While reading the book I was secretly hoping to get the Emporium of imagination somewhere in my city, only if that was real!
    The book is really well written and I found it extremely hard to put the book down. I also really loved all the characters descriptions and the detail the writer went into to describe each situation, for example the tsunami where I felt I was there when that aas happening.

    Overall, a book very well written, full of imagination.

  7. I enjoyed reading Tabitha Bird’s latest The Emporium of Imagination. I consider myself lucky to have received it.

    It’s a little different to her first book A Lifetime of Impossible Days so it’s hard to compare.

    I was enchanted with the story and didn’t want to put it down until the end. It was great that there was reference to the telephone box in Japan after the tsunami there. It’s good to Have an historical reference.

    I loved all the characters and found each of their stories interesting and was happy when it all worked out.

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