Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop is one of my favourite books – it’s charming, heart-warming, and deliciously escapist. Broken-hearted Jean Perdu owns a bookshop on a barge, moored on the Seine, from which he prescribes books to treat conditions that doctors just can’t. The unexpected arrival of a new neighbour prompts Jean to set sail down the rivers and canals of France to Provence in search of answers – and as his nautical miles increase, so too does his lust for life. This book is packed with tempting food, atmospheric locations, and blossoming new friendships.

contemporary fiction | romance

Rating: 5 out of 5.

back cover blurb

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.  The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

Author – Nina George | Published by – Abacus in April 2015 | Pages – 357 (paperback)
Translated by Simon Pare

“Kastner was one reason I called my book barge the Literary Apothecary. I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognised as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in,  because they are apparently too minor and intangible. The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end. Or when you recognise that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong. Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought, and you have to continue to search for a lifelong companion. Or those birthday morning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood. Things like that.” Jean Perdu, literary healer

my thoughts

By the time this passage above appeared in the book (page 22), I was already utterly entranced – I knew with absolute certainly that I wanted to jump on a EuroStar and find Jean Perdu in his barge.   He’s the kind of person I could talk to for hours and days.  What’s more, his barge also had a piano on board, and (clincher) cats!!  The two most well-read cats in France by all accounts – Kafka and Lindgren.

From the start, Jean Perdu’s self-imposed loneliness climbed out of the book and settled round my shoulders.  At times I wanted to hug him, at others I wanted to shake him.  Luckily, Catherine enters his apartment block … and his life.  With her encouragement, Jean confronts the source of his self-exiled seclusion – a long lost love, and 21 years of unanswered questions.

So he sets sail in Lulu, his lovingly restored barge, in search of answers and peace.  In spite of his desires to the contrary, however, he is not alone on this journey; Max Jordan, the superstar author du jour, seizes the opportunity to flee his unexpectedly frenzied fans, leaping on board despite Jean’s protestations. 

What follows is a heart-warming journey of both miles and enlightenment, friendship and discovery.  Jean Perdu’s melancholy and introspection are beautifully offset by Max’s exuberance.

Perhaps without realising, over the preceding years of Jean’s heartbreak, he’d shrunk his life into merely an existence; small, grey, cold and lonely, avoiding all things that might bring him joy.  As his nautical miles increase, his inhibitions fall away.  The pace of the book reflects the Jean’s unhurried meandering travels along the rivers of France, from Paris to Provence … but this is not a story to be rushed; it’s one to savour so its quiet cadence is perfectly fitting.

Every time I stopped reading, it was as if I was emerging from a sunshine and food filled dream.  The story is so richly written that I could see the hill-top chateaux, the vineyards, and sunflower fields as we pootled gently past on the barge.  At night I could easily have been sitting on deck enjoying the juiciest glass of Bordeaux, under impossibly starry skies, whilst gentle breezes carry the scent of lavender from the fields. By day I’d explore the boulangeries, pâtisseries, and crêperies, suppressing a smile at the frenchman passing in his Renault with a goat in the passenger seat. I could almost taste the still-warm baguettes, the rich earthiness of the Provencal pistol … and don’t even get me started on the Thirteen Desserts (use of capitals there for good reason).

At the end of the book the author has included a handful of recipes for the regional dishes that wafted deliciously from the pages of Jean Perdu’s journey.  There are also some prescribed literary cures to address any emotional or existential crisis you may be facing – although sadly there was nothing to address my ‘finished-a-great-book’ blues.

set the atmosphere

I think I might have mentioned (once or twice) about the food that bursts out of the pages of this book, so choosing a recipe to match this book left me spoilt for choice. After much mulling (and experimenting in the kitchen) I’ve opted for the Pistou Soup i) for it’s sheer yumminess, and ii) because you can eat it with one hand so you don’t have to put the book down :-). The image below is to make your mouth water … it’s also a link to the Slow Burning Passion foodie blog where I found the recipe.

This lovely book is deserving of the most quintessentially French backdrop possible … and what could be more atmospheric than some French café jazz with the occasional accordion?

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

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