It took me longer than usual to finish my last book, and that actually surprised me. I chose The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (Crown Publishing Group, 2016) because, well, what’s not intriguing about “Paris” and “Bookshop”? But I was surprised to discover that I just never cared all that much about the plot or the characters, and as a result would put the book down for days at a time before becoming vaguely curious about what might happen next.
Which is the exact opposite of what reviews had led me to expect from this novel, an international bestseller originally written and published in German. Telling the story of Paris bookseller, Jean Perdu, a “literary apothecary” who runs his business from a barge and decides impulsively to head off across the rivers of France in search of a lost love, this book seems like it should have everything going for it. “Enchanting”, “heartwarming”, and “wise” were all adjectives I came across in deciding to read it. And sometimes, occasionally, it is indeed all those things. Unfortunately, for this reader at least, it was also more often cloying, overwrought, and derivative. Is it a Chocolat send-up, substituting books for sweets? Is it a diary? Is it a collection of postcards and letters? Is it a quixotic quest? (George does “prescribe” Don Quixote in her “Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy” appendix.) Or, no, wait, is it a cookbook? Why, it’s all those things! The author throws seemingly every possible construct at the reader, and I found that her effort to pay homage to all the myriad ways in which good literature can “heal” our wounds ended up feeling artificial and contrived. Even the protagonist’s name had me thinking “Really? Perdu…as in Lost? That seems a bit melodramatic…”
I don’t, however, want to dismiss this book out of hand. I have other friends who have loved it, and it isn’t the first volume that got rave reviews elsewhere, yet left me feeling flat. (Most recently, The Goldfinch had me wondering what all the hype was about. It seemed to me like it was in desperate need of a fierce editor.) If you like France, barges, books, love triangles (did I mention there’s also a love triangle?), wine, good food, sudden love at first sight, unlikely coincidences, and sunsets where “Manon’s soul, Manon’s energy, Manon’s whole disembodied essence filled the land and the wind; yes, she was everywhere and in everything; she sparkled and manifested herself to him in every form she had taken on…” then you may very well enjoy this novel. And that’s the great thing about literature: we all have different experiences of it. Please feel free to share your perspective!
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.