I was about one fourth of my way through The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George when I spied a few reviews of the book on Goodreads. Half the reviewers gave the book high ratings. "Loved the book." So romantic." The other half were really down on the book. "Not what I expected." "Started off so strong and went down hill." Several of my blogging friends weighed in on both sides of the debate. Oh-oh. I was in trouble. I was still in the first fourth of the book and was enjoying it immensely but was I to expect a drastic down-turn soon? Dang it. Why did I read those reviews before I was done with the book. I felt like I was being poisoned. The only remedy was to keep reading and make up my own mind.
The book starts off so strong. Jean Perdu owns a little bookshop located on a barge in Paris. It is called the Book Apothecary. Perdu prides himself on being able to prescribe the perfect book for what ails a reader.
“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions;some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues. And some...well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful voice. Like a short, torrid love affair.” ― Nina George,
“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.”
“Perdu reflected that is was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”
Patrons arrive at the bookshop unprepared for Perdu's ability to guess their malady and his canny ability to prescribe the correct book. Some stomp away in shock only to return later for the correct treatment. Very clever. For any book lover, like myself, this book seems like a perfect prescription for us.
Then, approximately one fourth of the way through the book the storyline seems to shift. We learn that Perdu is a victim of love spurned. It happened 21 years earlier and he has been living with a broken heart ever since. When a new woman enters his life he is forced to pull up stakes and confront his old hurts. He pulls up the stakes that attach his barge to the mooring sight in Paris and heads off to confront his past love, to mend his broken heart.
“Memories are like wolves. You can’t lock them away and hope they leave you alone.”
“He wished he could prop his fearful self up in a corner like a broom and walk away.”
“Do you know that there’s a halfway world between each ending and each new beginning? It’s called the hurting time, Jean Perdu. It’s a bog; it’s where your dreams and worries and forgotten plans gather. Your steps are heavier during that time. Don’t underestimate the transition, Jeanno, between farewell and new departure. Give yourself the time you need. Some thresholds are too wide to be taken in one stride.”Along the way Perdu picks up three passengers. Max, a young and insecure author without a muse. A Neapolitan cook, who creates wonders of cuisine in the tiny kitchen aboard. And an eccentric bookseller who is looking for a good kiss. At this point in the story the plot starts to feel a little like Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Silly and farcical just bordering on funny, but not quite. Perdu has to grow through his pain to reach the ability to confront his past and move on. His companions all help him along the way but also distract from the story. I suspect this is where the reviewers either stopped reading or wallowed in the details long enough to give a negative report on Goodreads. At this point I found myself just wanting to finish the book. Since I was listening to the audiobook I couldn't skip pages or paragraphs so I bumped up the listening speed to 1.5. At this speed the text loses punctuation. Ha!
“I need to cry some more. I'll drown if I don't...Sometimes you're swimming in unwept tears and you'll go under if you store them up inside.”
“Fear transforms your body like an inept sculptor does a perfect block of stone...It's just that you're chipped away at from within, and no one sees how many splinters and layers have been taken off you. You become ever thinner and more brittle inside, until even the slightest emotion bowls you over. One hug, and you think you're going to shatter and be lost.”In the last fourth of the book Perdu is finally ready to do the hard work to recover himself and to open his heart to new love. The ending is satisfying and I understand the reviewers who commented on how romantic the book felt.
My personal favorite part of the book is all the quotable bits. I kept marveling that the book was translated from French yet the quotes in English are so lovely and speak to my heart. Quotes like all the ones I have attached here kept me reading and allow me to give the book a positive rating of 3.5.
“Love is a house. Everything in a house should be used—nothing mothballed or ‘spared.’ Only if we fully inhabit a house, shunning no room and no door, are we truly alive. Arguing and touching each other tenderly are both important; so are holding each other tight and pushing the other away. We must use absolutely every one of love’s rooms. If not, ghosts and rumors will thrive. Neglected rooms and houses can become treacherous and foul….”Have you read the book? What did you think?