Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Yes and no. The back flap of The Little Paris Bookshop describes Nina George's novel as a "Love letter to booksellers and readers, for fans of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry". Yes, the bookseller is a lover of books, but he's actually a reluctant bookseller, forced into it by the need for money. Yes, there's a love of books and discussion of books. But, The Little Paris Bookshop is actually a story of courtly love, idealized love that cannot exist within the bonds of marriage. And, it's the story of three knights on a quest, knights who are all searching for their own grail, their own idealized love or life. It's a mystical, lyrical book that unfolds as slowly as the knights' trip down the rivers of France.

At fifty, Monsieur Jean Perdu is an empty shell of a man dwelling, not living, in an apartment building in Paris. He listens to the sounds of his neighbors, but he never enters into their lives until a new woman moves in and he's asked to give her a table. So, after almost twenty-one years, he enters a room he hid behind shelves, a room with the memories of his lost love, Manon, a woman he loved for five years twenty-one years earlier. And, when the new resident, Catherine, tells Perdu she found a sealed envelope, a letter from Manon, he finally forces himself to read it. And, that letter sends him on an impossible quest to Manon's home region, a quest on his book barge.

It would spoil this beautiful romance to tell about Jean's journey, his companions along the way, or even his prescriptions for books for those who need them. And, romance is used in the original sense, stories about the chivalric adventures of knights and their ladies. This is a story about the influence of love on three men, three lovesick knights. It's mystical and reflective with brooding, complex characters.

If you love lush phrases, lyrical writing, George's story offers sentences to savor. Perdu sees books as "The only remedy for countless undefined afflictions of the soul." Even the opening of the book takes readers into Perdu's feelings and world. Forced to get that table, he faced, "The piercing question of what he was meant to do now that he had opened the door to the room in which all his love, his dreams and his past had been buried."

Yes. The author, through Jean Perdu, expresses a love for books. "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 void. Like a short, torrid love affair."

Will The Little Paris Bookshop be a short, torrid love affair for the next reader, or a romantic quest inspired by the past, a story of a journey back to life?

Nina George's website is

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Translated by Simon Pare. Crown. 2015. ISBN 9780553418774 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Sallyb said...

Lesa, This is a lovely review. I finished this book on Friday and debated how to present it. I totally missed it as the chivalric type of quest novel but you're exactly right. I was disappointed that it wasn't more directly about books and bookselling but I, too, loved George's lush sentences and storytelling.

Kaye Barley said...

What a wonderful review you've written, Lesa - thank you! I loved this book to the moon and back.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Sally! It's so good to hear that from someone who reads much more literary books than I do. I'm not normally the one to appreciate literary novels, but I did love George's characters and her style of writing.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye! I know you've read it a couple times, so I know how much you love it. I love you to the moon and back!