Reviewed by Jeanne
Jean Perdu considers himself a literary apothecary, a man who prescribes books to help people heal. That’s also the name he gives his books shop, which is actually a book barge located in the Seine. Perdu won’t sell books to people if he feels the book is not right for them; he queries them about their lives and then decides what book is needed. He lives a rather solitary life, until the day that a broken-hearted woman moves into his building, a woman whose husband has left her for another woman. Perdu is drawn to her against his will, unable to stop himself. When she needs furniture, he opens up an unused room to give her a table and chair.
When he sees her next, she presses a letter on him, a letter she found in the table. A letter from Manon, the woman Perdu loved and lost twenty years previously.
What he reads changes his life profoundly and sets him on a journey to find his life again.
Nina George’s book is about a band of lost souls who set out on a quest to find the next chapter in their own stories. The descriptions of Paris and the French countryside are evocative and lyrical. The book listed a translator, so I assumed the author was French—but you know what they say about assumptions. George is actually a well-known German author and journalist who writes both fiction and non-fiction. However, the description of the journey to Provence the characters take is a reflection of a real life journey taken by the author: all the little villages exist. The descriptions of the food and wine are just as delightful and delectable.
The book is as rich with literary allusions as it is with fully realized characters, all of whom revel in the power of the word to change one’s life. It is, as one reviewer said, a love-song to books but it’s also a mediation on love and loss, life and death, grief and peace. I’ll admit I got a bit bogged down at times—the characters, especially M. Perdu, are given to introspection—but the writing is lovely. The book references are both classic and contemporary, and cover all genres including children’s books, which is why readers find the book so irresistible. There’s a happy jolt of recognition when a book or author I know is mentioned, especially if it’s unexpected: Tom’s Midnight Garden or Pippi Longstocking or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy co-exist with Kafka and Cervantes. The last section of the book contains a list of books and what they will cure, much like a list of medicinal herbs.
Overall, The Little Paris Bookshop is a sweet and charming book with passionate characters in search of happy—or at least bittersweet—endings. It’s also a call for every person to enjoy the things life has to offer instead of waiting and regretting.
(And yes, there are cats. Why are you not surprised?)