The Little French Bistro, by Nina George (2010, 2017)

Contemporary Fiction
The Little French Bistro by Nina GeorgeHere is another story of life and love found at last by middle-aged characters from the German writer who gave us The Little Paris Bookshop. Originally published in German in 2010, this English translation, again by Simon Pare, comes on the heels of George’s success with Bookshop. Living in a loveless marriage to a truly horrid man, Marianne decides to end her life by jumping off a bridge over the Seine in Paris. The attempt fails and she is hospitalized. Following a visit by her furious husband, she walks out after stealing a lovely hand-painted tile depicting a seaside town in Brittany. Enchanted by the sea she has never seen, Marianne decides to go there and complete her suicide by walking into the sea. But chance intervenes and instead she lands a job in a bistro kitchen, complete with a furnished room, and a collection of quirky characters who not only accept her as she is, but welcome her as a lovely and charming new neighbour. I love the authenticity of Marianne’s struggle to accept herself as others see her. She seesaws between finding joy in long forgotten senses and feeling like a fraud. Can people change? If they can, should she give Lothar a second chance? If not, then who is this person she has become? There is so much pain in Marianne’s journey that I don’t consider this a romance, though love is a central theme as characters find it, recognize it, reject it, and rekindle it. Additionally, this is a novel about the power of woman, both the power we have within us and the power we find with other women. There is also power in our choice of where and with whom, as a community, to live, and George paints a fascinating story set in the eccentric Breton culture and summer landscape. Pare’s translation is rich and descriptive, though occasionally a bit stilted and rather formal. With strong characterization, distinctive voices and a solid plotline that only once stretched credulity for me, this is a good choice for fans of her work, and those who enjoyed The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living or Hello From the Gillespies. My thanks to Crown Publishing for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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