Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

Little Paris Bookshop.Nina GeorgeThe Little Paris Bookshop
Nina George
9780349140377, paperback

Publisher 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 apothecary. 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.

WildlyRead Review: Full disclosure: I sobbed during the last three chapters and epilogue of this book. It was totally worth it.

First, though, I’d like to give major credit to the translator, Simon Pare, who translated this book from its original German into English. That must have been no easy task, as it was a book originally written in German, set entirely in France, and then translated for an American audience. There are so many words in German that have no direct English translation, and to also come up with the correct evocative phrases to describe the French landscape – it’s a masterpiece. I’m always extra impressed when I am blown away by a work in translation, especially when it’s in part due to the language. In those rare cases, I can only imagine 1) how astounding the original prose must be, if I’m that impressed by the translated text, and 2) how hard the translator must have worked to keep the emotion behind the words and the lyrical rhythm the original text must have had. Well done, Mr. Pare.

As you read from the publisher description, M. Perdu runs a bookshop on a barge in Paris that he refers to as a literary apothecary. He “diagnoses” people’s inner ailments, and “prescribes” books as treatments. Any bookworm can tell you, this should be considered a sound medical practice. Unfortunately for M. Perdu, he cannot heal himself from his own internal wound that’s been festering for 20 years. When a woman suffering from heartbreak moves in across the hall from him, circumstances lead to the wound being lanced, and thus begins M. Perdu’s internal as well as external journey to do everything he can to squeeze all the poison out of it (if you’ll pardon the slightly gross medical metaphor).

‘Do we only decide in retrospect that we’ve been happy? Don’t we notice when we’re happy, or do we realise only much later that we were?’ – pg. 233

When I read a book, I underline passages, I dogear pages, and sometimes I even spill drops of tea or tears onto it. That book becomes a part of my life, sleeping beside me, patiently waiting for me to pick it up again when I’ve had to put it down. This book had to be extra patient, as reading it made my own emotions feel raw and exposed, and I could only stand to feel that way for short bursts of time. What I would normally finish in one or two sittings took me one to two weeks, but in reality, savoring it in that way was exactly what this book needed.

Pain, for example, he said: it reverses the polarity of the cells. It starts after only three days: arousal cells become pain cells , sensory cells become fear cells, coordination cells become pincushions. Eventually tenderness only causes hurt; every breeze, every musical vibration, every approaching shadow triggers fear. And pain feeds hungrily on every movement and every muscle, breeding millions of new pain receptors. your insides are completely transformed and replaced, but it is inevitable from the outside.

By the end you want no one ever to touch you again, Vijaya says. – pg. 244

There were passages that were so achingly beautiful, I had to put the book down for a minute and do some deep breathing. There were other passages that stirred up such sensory memories of old personal wounds that I was left gasping for breath after reading a sentence or paragraph. There were descriptions of the French countryside that made me yearn to get on the next plane to Provence, and I couldn’t help a fleeting thought to Johnny Depp’s “river rat” portrayal from the movie Chocolat when M. Perdu and his companions were navigating the river.

This book talks about food in relation to life and love, describing sensory pleasures that makes your mouth water involuntarily. The secret tango culture and meet-ups add a nice level of depth to the characters and the meandering plotline, which resembles the river the barge is on – heading on a specific course with a firm destination, but happy to dip off into various tributaries along the way.

Jordan’s daring impressed Perdu. Yet the novel still struck him as a kind of gazpacho that kept sloshing over the edge of the soup bowl. Its author was just as emotionally defenceless and unprotected; he was the positive print of Perdu’s negative.

Perdu wondered how it must feel to experience things so intensely and yet survive. – pg. 17

Unlike many books, The Little Paris Bookshop does not end at the end of the main character’s physical or emotional journey. I’d like to think this is a commentary on how one’s emotional journey is never truly over, but regardless of the reason, it was immensely satisfying to see M. Perdu past the the traditional moment of journey’s end. It’s not entirely a “happily ever after,” but it was complete, no loose ends were left, and it was gratifying to see how all the threads came together and then continued on.

One of the most intriguing currents throughout the book was the reoccurring mention of M. Perdu’s Great Encyclopedia of Small Emotions, which he writes mostly in his head until the right time to put it down on paper. It’s a great way of cataloguing large and small meaningful moments in life, and made me think of one of my favorite books, The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan.

‘I’d rather write an encyclopedia about common emotions,’ he admitted. ‘From A for “Anxiety about picking up hitchhikers” to E for “Early risers’ smugness” through to Z for “Zealous toe concealment, or the fear that the sight of your feet might destroy someone’s love for you”.’

And speaking of love, my last note on this book is about how pleased I was to read about love and relationships and comfort and friendship and camaraderie still being figured out, agonized over, and eventually found/developed/settled into in characters that weren’t in their 20s or even their 30s (most of them), but into their 40s, 50s, and beyond. As a 30-year-old myself, it was refreshing to read about people still struggling with those concepts.

As one friend put it, this is a book that will make you feel (again), and though it hurts, it’s also gentle, and will let you feel at your own pace. I highly recommend you pick it up.



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