This was a nice surprise as I really hadn’t expected to like it. I started to read The Little Paris Bookshop a few months ago, had a bit of a false start and just couldn’t get into it; I quite liked it but found it slow, so limped on for a few chapters and then abandoned it which is so unlike me. Firstly, because it takes an awful lot for me to leave a book unfinished and secondly, because it was about Paris and books; I mean how much more ‘me’ could it be?
I did a French and German degree at Uni a bazillion years ago, so whilst the various tenses, vocabulary oddities and grammatical ins and outs have creakily retreated to the cobwebby recesses of my mind, my nostalgic love for all things French and German remains, and I can’t go past a novel that takes place in one of the beautiful cities that I’ve lived in, hitchhiked to or passed through!
So, as you can imagine I was bit bemused when I couldn’t get into this as I’d seen some great reviews online (and some stinkers but hey, everything is subjective) and it was right up my alley. I blame timing, mood and me being a coward – I’d read enough to know that it was about love, loss and the C word and having seen my mum battle (and beat thank god) breast cancer, I have to be in the right mood to take myself back there – but I’m pleased that I stumbled across it on my book shelf and gave it another whirl.
Because it’s a beautiful book and one that will linger in my mind; Nina George is one hell of a writer and I wanted to savour every word. I’m a super speedy reader by nature and if I’m reading a formulaic, mystery romp or chick lit, can devour a novel in a few hours. But with this book, I made myself slow down; to relish the imagery, language used and quirky characterisations. I even found myself grabbing my notebook and writing out passages that resonated with me, which is something I have not done for a fair few years!
So, what is it about? ?
It’s the gentle tale of a grand passion and essentially a voyage of discovery; metaphorically and literally. The book introduces us to Jean Perdu who runs a bookshop called the Little Apothecary on a houseboat on the Seine. He is known as a literary pharmacist who is renowned for his uncanny ability to prescribe exactly the right book to ease a person’s troubled mind or life. The story starts with him opening a letter – from his former lover – that has been locked away in a sealed drawer since her departure; she left him twenty years ago and he has never recovered from the loss, retreating into an almost monastic existence in a busy Parisian apartment building where life goes on around him. However, this isolated existence is shattered when he opens the letter twenty years later to find out that his lover left because she was dying from cancer. This leaves him reeling and he makes the impulsive decision to unmoor his boat and sail to Provence and his love’s home town. A reclusive author – and fellow apartment building dweller – accompanies him and together they sail south.
And what is so wonderful about it?
Well before I go ahead and gush about the wonderfulness of this book, you need to know that there are spoilers ahead; if you don’t want to know what happens, just know that I love it and recommend it for so many reasons and you should run to your nearest bookshop or Kindle and make it yours now!
I loved loved loved the beautiful language and imagery. I loved experiencing the French countryside as it changes, becoming more vibrant and rugged as Jean travels further south; I’ve been fascinated with Provence ever since reading Judith Krantz’s Mistral’s Daughter as a teen, and despite some reviews deriding the clichéd characterisation of the landscape and some of the characters that they meet en route, I was engrossed and didn’t feel the same at all.
We see Jean finally able to grieve the loss of a relationship that never had the future that he had hoped; it’s uplifting to experience the process with him and follow as he starts to heal and begins to explore his emerging feelings for a woman who he has been corresponding with during the voyage.
My husband jokes that I only like happy endings in books and movies and to be fair he has a point. I’m an eternal optimist and romantic and nothing makes me happier than seeing loose ends neatly tied up and the couple that you’ve been cheering for ride off into the sunset, but that’s not always life is it?! And I like that the ending of this book has a bittersweet note; that Manon miraculously wasn’t still alive, and it was all an awful mistake – which could have been the case with other authors – and that Manon’s daughter who we meet, and who Manon sacrificed herself for, wasn’t Jean’s daughter and the family he had yearned for, but her husband Luc’s child. But what we are left with is hope; he has started to heal, to love again and has found a family in the eclectic characters that have supported him along the way.
It’s not a frothy, easy read but one that I will definitely be recommending to my friends. Have you read it; what did you think?