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!

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

(This review is from 2009, but given my recent post about In One Person, I thought I would add this past review to the site.)

Last Night in Twisted RiverLast Night in Twisted River by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Mr. Irving;

I just finished reading your new book, Last Night in Twisted River. I enjoy your writing style very much and your layers of storytelling have always been amazing to me. I do have to ask you something difficult, though.

I have had this hope, each time I hear of a new John Irving book being released, that THIS time I am going to be totally surprised by how and where you have taken us as readers. My only wish is for you to really break out of you Exeter/wrestling/boys&mothers box. You do this group of themes so well, and have shown that time and again. In fact, in your new novel you rail against authors who do the same thing by “writing what they know”. You can understand my confusion.

In Last Night in Twisted River, the (very)thinly veiled references to almost every book you have ever published, peppered throughout this novel, is a bit disconcerting. Along with a few badly cloaked allusions to some of your personal, real life events I am left worried your creative well is getting depleted. We readers know you KNOW this stuff ~ your comfort zone, your heart.

Please Mr. Irving, something different next time? I know you have the talent to pull off the absolutely unexpected and render the reading world gob-smacked! I still heart you and still give the novel 4 stars!

Sincerely,

Jennifer

Okay, so before the book has to go back to the library, I pulled out a couple of quotes that stood out for me.

A)”Ketchum meant that someone should have killed Ralph Nader. (Gore would have beaten Bush in Florida if Nader hadn’t played the spoiler role.) Ketchum believed that Ralph Nader should be bound and gagged – “preferably, in a child’s defective car seat” – and sunk in the Androscoggin.”

Okay, this just made me laugh out loud, picturing it.

B)”Danny Angel’s fiction had been ransacked for every conceivable autobiographical scrap; his novels had been dissected and overanalyzed for whatever could be construed as the virtual memoirs hidden inside them. But what did Danny expect? In the media, real life was more important that fiction; those elements of a novel that were, at least, based on personal experience were of more interest to the general public that those pieces of the novel-writing process that were “merely” made up.”

C) “That kind of question drove Danny Angel crazy, but he expected too much from journalists; most of them lacked the imagination to believe that anything credible in a novel had been “wholly imagined.” And those former journalists who later turned to writing fiction subscribed to that tiresome Hemingway dictum of writing about what you know. What bullshit was this? Novels should be about the people you know? How many boring but deadeningly realistic novels ca be attributed to this lame and utterly uninspired advice?”

D) “Dysfunctional families; damaging sexual experiences; various losses of innocence, all leading to regret. These stories were small, domestic tragedies – none of them condemnations of society or government. In Danny Angel’s novels the villain – if there was one – was more often human nature…”

Funny how my tongue-in-cheek letter, above, can be addressed with passages from the novel. These quotations were all taken from the same time in the book, covering pages 372 through 377.

Hmmmmm.

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In One Person by John Irving

In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

john, john, john!!
you suck me in.
every time!

there’s this matrix on wikipedia. i am sure you have seen it. the matrix makes me sigh and amuses me. it’s a conundrum.

near the end of the book, I felt like you were ticking boxes. giving readers a list of socially important things to mull. i don’t take issue with the issues…they are important and need to be written about so that tolerance and acceptance become the norms…i take issue with the fact this device (is that what it was?) interrupted the flow of the story and yanked me out of my irving induced haze of literary delight. it was like being smacked in the face with a big fish. possibly a frozen big fish.

that cost you one-star. no. i will not give it back.

i still love you.

call me.