The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (2013, 2015)

Literary Romance
The Little Paris BookshopWhat a wonderfully multicultural novel this turns out to be! Originally written in German by Nina George and published in 2013, it has been translated into English by Simon Pare. The novel is set in France, and features mostly French characters, as well as a wonderfully earthy Italian lover and cook. Jean Perdu is our protagonist, who has been mourning the loss of his great love Manon, who left him two decades ago. Now 50, he lives in an unadorned Paris apartment and operates a book barge, The Literary Apothecary, moored on the banks of the Seine. From the barge he dispenses books as therapy for emotional ailments. Until he meets Catherine, a neighbour who is in deep emotional pain after being discarded by her husband. (She should have ditched him years ago, imho. But that would be a different story.) Equally eager for love, they feel an attraction that terrifies them both. When the truth of Manon’s departure is suddenly revealed, Jean reacts without thinking – he literally unleashes the ties that bind the barge to shore, and off we go down the Seine, meeting people whose lives are changed by books and the people who love them. This is a tribute to the power carefully crafted words can have on our lives. I particularly enjoyed a biting criticism of readers who speed through literature, something I’m guilty of myself. When one reader reported reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in an afternoon, Perdu lamented: “Madame Gulliver, Oscar Wilde spent six years writing it. He was later sentenced to prison and died a short time afterward. Didn’t he deserve a little more than two hours of your time?” [p. 42-43]I’m happy to report George is no literary snob – sure, Perdu recommends Kafka’s The Metamorphosis to appropriate shoppers but he also celebrates works like Game of Thrones and Pippi Longstocking. Linger over this sensual tale of love lost and found, savour it like the Bohemian potage Giovanni creates from the fresh produce of Provence. Finally, enjoy the food yourself thanks to the half-dozen recipes George includes at the end, along with Jean Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy – suggestions for books to heal whatever ails you. My thanks to NetGalley for the advance reading copy in exchange for my honest review.
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