The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

★★½ out of 5

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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.

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Nina George

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).

Lists:

(ARC of the novel provided by the publisher, via NetGalley. Novel will be on sale 23 June 2015.)

Question:

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?

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Happy reading!

Weekly Book News Roundup

Book News

  • Two bits of news in book-to-film adaptations this past week:
    • Actor Ewan McGregor is set to direct a film adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel American Pastoral.
    • Richard Linklater, the director of the critically acclaimed film Boyhood, is in talks to direct a film adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 bestselling novel Where’d You Go Bernadette.
  • Nearly one hundred Canadian independent bookstores have signed up for the inaugural Canadian Authors for Indies Day, which is set to take place on May 2nd. Founder, and author, Janie Chang spoke about the initiative with Publishers Weekly.
  • In a controversial industry shift, an increasing number of publishing executives at large houses such as HarperCollins and Little, Brown are bypassing literary agents altogether and inviting open submissions of manuscripts.
  • In big book award news this week:
    •  The U.S. Jewish Book Council announced Canadian author Ayelet Tsabari as the recipient of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (Fiction) for her collection The Best Place on Earth: Stories. Established in 2007, the $100,000 U.S. award alternates annually between emerging fiction and non-fiction authors, and aims to recognize works that “explore the Jewish experience” and show the potential to make an impact on Jewish literature.  Fellow Canadian Kenneth Bonert was awarded $25,000 U.S. as the runner-up for his novel The Lion Seeker.
    • Nine writers from four different countries have been awarded the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes for fiction, nonfiction, and drama. The winners will each receive $150,000 to support their work. For more information about the prize and a complete list of winners, visit the Grants & Awards blog.
  • The New Yorker has republished a 1962 essay by Alice Munro. Originally appearing Canadian magazine The Montrealler, Munro describes “the first real book” she ever read: Charles Dickens’s A Child’s History of England, whose tales of melodrama and morbidity provided, Munro writes, “the first glimpse I ever had of history, before I knew what history was… I had a private vision of what I was reading about—unexpected, incommunicable, painfully exciting.
  • Starting to write a book is hard. Then there’s the whole middle part—also difficult. And finally there’s the end, which is no cakewalk, either. Can we learn anything from the last sentences in famous novels? Jonathan Russell Clark explores the idea at The Millions“For writers, the last sentences aren’t about reader responsibility at all—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop worrying about what comes next, because nothing does. No more keeping the reader interested, no more wariness over giving the game away. This is the game.” 

This week’s book news has me curious about a few things, so I would love to hear from you:

  1. What is your favourite independent bookshop? Do you make a point of shopping at independent bookstores?
  2. What is the first ‘real’ book you remember reading?
  3. And, as always,  I would love to know what you’ve been reading this week? Anything excellent, that you would recommend?

Happy reading!

Visit your local independent bookseller today!

Visit your local independent bookseller today!

Book Launch – “Finding the Words” Edited by Jared Bland

On the 17th of February, Walrus Magazine hosted the launch of this wonderful new Canadian book, Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile and breaking the Rules. Bland works at the magazine, as an editor, and was also the editor responsible for pulling this new anthology together.

There was a real hodge-podge of Canadian literati on-hand for the launch, which was held at Duggan’s Brewery. Being newly returned to the city, I haven’t yet met all of the great writers, bloggers and journalists in the Toronto market, so hitting these events solo is a bit daunting. I really should not have worried, though, as writer Guy Gavriel Kay introduced himself to me, thinking I looked familiar. We established very quickly that we had not previously met, but then went on to have an extremely in-depth conversation about the role of the internet in the lives of today’s authors, while also discussing The New Yorker’s David Denby. During our conversation, Kay mentioned he was waiting on his friend “Martin” to arrive. Well, “Martin” turned out to be none other that the Globe and Mail‘s Books Editor, Martin Levin. (I was sort of dying inside over my profound good luck in meeting both gentlemen! With hope, this was undetectable to my good-natured raconteurs.)

My only disappointment of the evening was the lack of a reading from the book – maybe this is standard operating procedure when it comes to anthologies?? I somehow doubt it, though. There are so many wonderful essays contained within the volume that to have a portion of one essay brought to life through wonderful oration would have been a great treat. Bland conceived the idea for this book as a look at the importance of language to writers. He brain-stormed some really crazy ideas with Ellen Seligman, a publisher (fiction) at McClelland and Stewart, as well as the President of PEN Canada.
Bland knew he wanted to keep the subject for the anthology broad in subject to allow participating authors some leeway with their essays. That the book would be anchored by this idea of the importance of language was always prominent though. “Language exists for us as something sublime as well as something incredibly banal.” writes Bland, in the introduction of the book Finding the Words. He goes on to write that this idea is “more complicated still for writers who are, after all, the artists whose raw material is most omnipresent in their lives.” Language, Bland concludes, “is an extremely rich subject for an anthology”.

Eventually (as you will note from the subtitle of the book), the topics of: inspiration; desire; war; celebrity; exile and breaking the rules were decided upon for the essay topics that would be solicited from novelists, journalists, songwriters, memoirists, philosophers and essayists. If you have a favourite Canadian wordsmith, they very likely have an essay in Finding the Words. This is a book that offers so much insight, grit and life within its pages. And, as an impressive aside, I would be remiss if I did not mention that proceeds from this volume of work will go to PEN Canada in support of its vital work in defense of freedom of expression on behalf of writers around tho world who have been silenced. A very noble cause and a very worthwhile project from Jared Bland.

(Apologies for my less than regular posting. I have been dealing with an illness, so have had some challenges keeping to a regular schedule.)