★★½ out of 5
From the book’s description:
“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.”
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary pharmacist. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.
Okay, first up: Hello, my name is Jennifer and I got a bit suckered into reading a romance novel. (Publisher has listed this as ‘fiction, romance, contemporary’ on their website. NetGalley listing reads ‘literature/fiction’, and did not have the ‘contemporary romance’ identifier. I did not check the publisher’s website until after I finished reading the novel. Oops!) I am not against romance, per se. But when reading, I am against the overly-sentimental and schmaltzy, and overuse of clichés. So this book fell apart for me on all three counts. which is really, really unfortunate. This is a novel about books, and their power to help and to heal. It’s set in Paris, and the bookshop is a floating barge on the Seine. I mean… come on – it sounds perfect, right?! But the books and bookshop are a feint for the love story (actually, a few love stories – the primary of which is pretty thin and, for me, difficult to believe).
I probably should have clued in right away that The Little Paris Bookshop wasn’t going to be the best read for me – the main character’s name is ‘Perdu’, French for ‘lost’ or ‘missing’. And Perdu – Jean Perdu – has shut himself off to experiencing the world after the heartbreak of being dumped 21 years ago. (Le sigh.) Jean Perdu is truly, emotionally, and physically lost. It’s a bit too literal for my tastes. Jean was left a letter by his departing girlfriend (again, a literal ‘Dear John’ letter), but he could not bring himself to read it for more than 20 years.
The book, at moments, reminded me of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – both charming, nice novels with interesting premises and some endearing secondary characters. The Little Paris Bookshop, though, is not as strong as these and mostly it’s because of the schmaltz and clichés. I felt like I was reading regurgitations and not originality. (Hmm, in noting these comparison novels, I am now wondering what’s up with the men? Heh.)
There was also this very strange situation where Jean Perdu’s father goes on a bit with a long comparison of horses and women. This came right at a moment during the read where I was feeling awkward about how men and women were being presented/treated in the story, and I found myself off on a tangent wondering what the author really feels about men and women. A passing mention of someone being a misogynist happens later in the story. I’m not explaining this very well, sorry. But I felt strange that this female author offers stereotypical thoughts that might usually come from a (less-than-evolved) male perspective.
So as to not sound so old and cranky and down on love (I am none of these things, I swear!): I did really enjoy the meta-ness of the book. As I was reading, I was marking the authors and books mentioned in the story. Helpfully, there is a list included at the back of the book. As well, there was some good eating happening through the novel. A few recipes are also collected at the back of the book. So both of these aspects were great. The novel, originally published in Germany as Das Lavendelzimmer (The Lavender Room) has been a huge hit for Nina George – more than 500,000 copies have been sold. George is also a freelance journalist. Between her careers as a fiction writer and journalist, George has published 26 books (novels, mysteries and non-fiction), over one hundred short stories, and more than 600 columns. George has won two awards – a DeLiA (a German literary prize) and the Friedrich Glauser Prize (Germany’s best-known award for crime writing).
So, clearly George has talent, and The Little Paris Bookshop book has worked for, and is beloved by, many, many readers. I just really wish the whole of the thing was stronger and more engaging for me. I do feel this will make an easy vacation read, and will offer a lovely escape for some readers (and I recognize I may be in the minority with my opinion of the book).
- So that others can learn about, or track, the books mentioned in George’s novel, I created a listopia on Goodreads which is a compilation of the books mentioned in The Little Paris Bookshop. it makes for a pretty great reading project.
- I also have collected a list of all the authors mentioned, though no specific books were noted for them. Again, this is a pretty great idea for a reading project:
(ARC of the novel provided by the publisher, via NetGalley. Novel will be on sale 23 June 2015.)
Based on my response to this novel, I am curious: which books have your read that – ahead of the read – seemed to tick all of your literary preferences boxes, yet just fell flat for you?