The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

23 Feb 2018

I'm actually a little bit proud of myself. I've managed to finish reading two books in under two months, and I know that to some people, that's not a lot, but for me, as someone with a limited amount of time on their hands, it's something I'm chuffed with. Like I mentioned in my post about The Essex Serpent, I'm aiming to do a book review every month, and I'm slowly getting into the intense part of the semester, but I've already got stuck in with another book. However, we won't talk about that yet. Instead, let me tell you about The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. I first heard of this book in a post by Lauren Evie (I can't remember for the life of me which post it was now, but you should follow her blog, it's pretty great!) and it just sounded so sweet and happy. After reading it though, I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I can't tell whether I enjoyed it or not, so I'm going to get all my thoughts written down, and try to summarise a bit at the end!
“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.
For me, the blurb hits the nail right on the head. This is a book about a man who realises that he's made a mistake and wants a bit more out of life, so he sets off on his floating book pharmacy to the South of France. And in my opinion, that's all that there really was to it. Of course, you can argue that it was a story about discovery and exploring yourself, but honestly, that got a bit lost for me. The story kind of dragged on a little bit, and this may have been representative of the meandering journey that the men in the barge were taking, but honestly, I started getting to the point where I just wanted the book to be over. I feel terrible saying that because I know so many people loved this book, but it just got a little bit stale for me. I was also so uncomfortable with the fact that the book was glorifying infidelity - it's a subject that doesn't sit right with me, so I definitely found some parts very awkward to read.

However, I'm not about to slate everything that this book was because there were some things about it that I did enjoy. One of those was Nina George's writing. I thought her descriptions and use of language were so beautiful, and reading this book really wanted to make me go back to France so that I can appreciate the countryside and the small river towns a little bit more. I could picture it all in my head, although I have to admit, the part with the storm and the dying deer made me think about the dirty beck near my mum's house, but aside from that, I enjoyed envisioning the landscapes in my head.
As far as characters go, Jean Perdu was an awful protagonist. When I read the blurb, I had an image in my head of a quirky gentleman that was a little bit eccentric with his book barge, but he was actually just a miserable old man that really enjoyed telling the audience how sorry he was for himself. Every chapter featured something about how amazing the woman he loved was and how he still wasn't over her after 20 years, and it got so boring, in all honesty. I was willing for him to do something exciting or tell us something really out-there about himself, but no. He was a very beige character and that made for a very dull read. I also wasn't a fan of Max or Cuneo. In fact, I think the only person I enjoyed reading was Samy, and she was only in it for a short amount of time. I imagined her to be quite short and loud with a bit of a cheeky twinkle in her eye. She definitely made the last few chapters of the book a bit more interesting for me.

So the ending. I won't spoil it, but I'll say that I think there was more to be had from it. It was lovely and everything, but man, it was so unsatisfying. I don't know what I expected because we knew about the secret that Perdu was keeping from Max and Cuneo and who he was going to visit, but I just wanted more from it. It was just lacking something and it fell a little flat for me. I know that a lot of people really liked the ending because it was nice and happy, which I agree was rather lovely, but it needed something else. Don't ask me what because I haven't a clue, but I was left feeling a little bit unsatisfied.

I think, overall, for me, the whole book is a bit 'meh'. My life hasn't changed because of it and it isn't something that I'll be recommending from the rooftops. Yes, it's romantic, but it's kind of a romantic overkill, and I get that it's a stereotype of the French to be loved up all the time, but maaaaan, it was a bit too much for me. I really had to force myself to get through it and I think life is a bit too short to be reading books like that. Also, if you're a bit funny about sex scenes and the word 'cock' (which pops up - pardon the expression - so randomly and kind of shatters the romance of the scene), then avoid this. There's a particular bit with a woman bareback riding a horse while naked... it's just all a lot to take in. So, I think my final thought is that this book wasn't for me, no matter how hard I tried to like it. The best bit for me were the last few pages where there were recipes of meals that were made in the story and a glossary of all the writers and books mentioned throughout.

Of course, just because I didn't like it, that doesn't mean that you won't enjoy it! If you're a fan of France, books within books, undying love, happy endings, stray cats and stories about 'finding yourself', this may be the book for you.

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