Here’s Lynn’s Book Remarks on “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George:
“The landscape fanned out far, far below. The day was bright after the mistral had bled the sky of its color, and the horizon was virtually white where Jean imagined Avignon to be. He saw sand-colored houses, scattered like dice on the green and red and yellow patchwork, as in an old painting. Long rows of vines, ripe and juicy, lined up like soldiers. Huge, faded squares of lavender. Green, brown and saffron-colored fields, among them the swaying, waving green of trees.”I love a book where place is as central a character as the ones who talk. I’ve traveled to Japan, South Africa, the Shire, South Carolina and even Mars. They were all exciting and wonderful and places I would love to go again (well, maybe not Mars). But this time, I decided to find a book that would get me excited and ready for an actual trip I’m planning to celebrate an actual milestone birthday. So I picked up “The Little Paris Bookshop” because not only did it promise to take me on a rambling journey through France, but it had a book barge! And cooking recipes! And cats! That it’s a book completes the bundle of everything I love in life. So I expected some whimsy, lots of descriptive passages on France and quirky characters. And my expectations were met. What I didn’t expect was a soul-searching experience on love lost and gained, forgiveness, aging, healing and tango.
The book starts in Paris with a button down man living a button down life. He’s a literary apothecary, dispensing life advice via books on his tied down book barge on the Siene. Can you imagine it? Walking onto a book filled boat, the owner psyching out your greatest dilemma and curing it with an obscure yet totally appropriate novel? At this point I closed the book and wished something like that existed in the real world. I was entranced, and I was just at Chapter 3. But of course we aren’t staying in the same place and our main human character, Jean Perdu, discovers his greatest heartache is even more tragic than he imagines.
Now here I have to admit I’m not driven by romance in a novel. But the ones in this book were adult and complex enough to resonate. That I happened to fall in love with France is an entirely different kind of romance and so doesn’t count.
The discovery of this added tragedy to his tragic heartbreak sets Perdu, the Literary Apothecary and the book in motion. We leave the bustling comforts of Paris to travel to the South of France, via canals and rivers. On board is Max Jordan, a young novelist with sophomore writer’s block and two cats with quirky author names. Cats are very present in this book which is just fine by me. Not too long into the journey they are joined by Salvo Cuneo, an Italian chef. Again, a welcome addition to the boat because he talks about food with loving intimacy, another thing that is just fine by me.
It’s this journey down the river that serves as a not so subtle metaphor to Perdu’s journey through his life. Canals serve as stops and starts for the barge and Perdu’s remunerations on his past. There are breaking points and reveals and friendships forged, but more importantly, there are long conversations between the men on board and people they meet while traveling. They talk about life and death and love and loss. George uses these moments to infuse the book with poignant and philosophical passages. Indeed, I could have finished this book in a couple days if it were not for the abundant amount of personal reflection the book inspired. This meaty passage provided a long, thoughtful pause:
“Habit is a vain and treacherous goddess. She lets nothing disrupt her rule. She smothers one desire after another: the desire to travel, the desire for a better job or a new love. She stops us from living as we would like, because habit prevents us from asking ourselves whether we continue to enjoy doing what we do.”
While this one just plain delighted this soon-to-be 60-year-old woman:
“Goodness, I’m approaching my late 50’s. I’m entering the prime of my life.”
Eventually, all you can (or want) to remember, and those ever flowing emotions, must come to an end. Perdu and his compatriots have inventoried the stock they have taken of them- selves and realize it’s time to get real, to get grounded. So Perdu appropriately ties up the barge and leaves for a time of introspection and reflection in the South of France. (It is at this point I vow to do all my reflection in the South of France, swimming in the Mediterranean and working at a bookstore.) Perdu knows that he must heal and forgive himself before he can face the added tragedy to his tragic heartbreak, which is the climax of the novel. And the ending is completely satisfying.
So, was France a present in this book? Resoundingly yes. I could smell the lavender, taste the wine, squint in Mediterranean sunshine and feel the sea on my skin. Paris felt exotic and vibrant teeming with cafes and people. And there are cats everywhere. Which as I’ve mentioned, I’m good with.
So if you like your tension light and your endings happy, pick up this book. Along the way you’ll read some truly beautiful passages and fall in love with who (or where) ever you want.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Marisa Cleveland loves to laugh, hates to cry, and does both often. She has a master’s degree from George Mason University and joined The Seymour Agency after she ended an eightyear career teaching students language arts, grades 6-12. Previous to teaching, she worked as an assistant director for a graduate school in Washington, D.C., before settling in Southwest Florida over a decade ago. As a former gymnast, cheerleader, and dancer, she understands the importance of balance, and she encourages everyone to stay flexible. Cleveland is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum, and she loves connecting with other readers through social media. Though she’s a painfully private introvert, she can be reached through her website: www.marisacleveland.com or follow her journey on Twitter: @marisacleveland.