Blurb: “There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.
What a glorious read this was and a book review that was such a pleasure to write. I don’t often find or read books that make me want to sigh happily at how everything within its pages has spoken to me in just the right way, but this one does. I admit, it was the promise of Paris that got me to pick this up, but it turned out to be so much more than just about Paris… in fact, it’s not really set there at all.
Jean Perdu is a gifted bookseller. He can look at a person and know exactly what sort of book will soothe their soul and he is always right. He works on a barge filled with books, and lives in a wonderful building filled with quirky characters that are saved from being too quirky because we don’t see much of them. The affection that he holds for them evident in all his descriptions also help. However someone new comes along to the building, escaping a crumbling marriage and a husband who wants a younger woman. Catherine doesn’t have much, and when one of these quirky neighbours convinces Jean to give her a table, and he does.
But, it’s a table from a room that is a shrine to the great love of his life that left him decades before, and within it Catherine finds a letter from her, Manon, to Jean that he has never opened. Catherine, and opening the tomb that was his past sets off Jean’s journey in this book. Accompanied by a writer Max, who has yet to start writing his second book due to crippling insecurity, they go on a journey to Jean’s past and Manon… because in the letter that Jean didn’t open for 20-something years, is an explanation for why Manon left him and a request that he come to her because she’s dying. Tragic right?
Did I also mention the part where Manon was having an affair with Jean while her husband was in a rural region to tend to the farm? And said husband knew this?
I have to admit, I didn’t understand Manon when I read this. The author has given her a presence in the book by dedicating a few chapters here and there to her voice, but in all honesty, I didn’t need to know much about her. Jean drives what readers think of her in his all-encompassing love for her, and reality didn’t need to intrude on that for any reason – the book is about Jean coming to terms with his love for her and her reasons for leaving him, but I just didn’t think it needed to be so complicated reasons though. Sometimes, the ideal should be left, without needing explanations intrude on it in a story.
It helps readers that Jean accepted her for who she was – and loved her. He’s a charming, relatable character going through something filled with such deep regret I couldn’t help but feel for him – and forgive the small bits that didn’t work in the book.
Jean’s pursuit for closure is done on the barge, with Max, as they travel via the rive to the south of France. It gives the writer a chance to bring different characters into their orbit and take them out again, prompting both Max and Jean to begin change in their lives. There is a strange but firm friendship, which proved to be an unexpected pleasure in this book.
Books are a big and essential part of this novel, but they are weaved so seamlessly into the novel and Jean and Max’s journey that it’s impossible to separate them out and say: this is how the author uses them. Books are part of Jean and Max, and the story as a whole; the novel celebrates them, even down to the fan convention cosplaying novels like GOT and Lord of the Rings inspire.
In the end, this is a book about owning your regrets, about letting yourself have them and mourn and then moving past them. I couldn’t remember when last a book had been so joyous as much as it has been about overcoming tragedy. Nina George has walked a fine line between the two, never letting her characters wallow for too long, but knowing that they should feel their regrets.
Have you read this? What did you think of it?