Wednesday, September 16, 2015
"The Little Paris Book Shop": A Bit Too Much Of Everything
I love Paris.
I love books.
I love love.
Because of the three statements above, I should have loved "The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George.
And I did love parts of it, but something about it didn't feel right. To me, it was a bit like gorging on deep dark chocolate truffles with creamy centers. It feels so good, and dark and smooth in the beginning, but then after you eat too many, your tummy hurts.
Too much of a good thing?
Many people who love this book will disagree with me heartily, and I get it, because when I started reading the story of Jean Perdu (which means lost in French, by the way), the owner of a floating Literary Apothecary where he prescribes books for what ails people even if he can't seem to cure himself from his 20 years of love solitude after his lover left him, I too thought I would be entranced for the entire book.
The elements are all there. Jean begins to awaken from his 20 year living depravation when a new woman, Catherine, moves across the hall from him in his building which is already chock full of a crazy cast of characters. She stirs something inside of him and then uncovers a letter from his lover that was tucked away in a drawer in a table he gives her. He hid it there 20 years before in order to escape the awful words he knew he would find - that his lover (who he doesn't even name in the beginning) wants to end things.
But, that isn't the case at all. Manon's letter reveals, to Jean's horror, that she was dying from cancer and her wish is for him to join her in the South of France to say goodbye. He realizes he is 20 years too late, and that he spent the last 20 years in an emotional solitude for false reasons.
In his emotional spiral, Jean decides to unmoor his floating apothecary and take off on a journey to find the truth about Manon or to beg forgiveness for his stupidity and pride, or to find himself. His neighbor, Max Jordan who is an author whose 1st book success has paralyzed his ability to write, journeys with him to find a new story.
Along the journey they have two others board their book and cat vessel - a chef and an eccentric bookseller.
At times, George's writing is beautiful, but it always seemed off to me. The love scenes that Jean remembers are too much as is the intensity of their "big love" for each other. It's not that I don't believe in "big love" or that I don't think love can unhinge people, it's just that there was too much unhinging and not enough hinging? Maybe that's the best explanation I can give for not loving a book that seems just like the kind of book I would love.
Even in the end of the journey where I know I should have been tearing up and feeling vast amounts of emotion, I felt blank.
It did at times remind me of two other books that I have read: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry due to the journey towards some sort of closure with a woman from the past and the discoveries along the journey. It also reminded me of The Storied Life of AJ Frikery due to the eccentric nature of the bookseller and his love of books with the added bonus of a love story.
Speaking of bonuses - this book also had quite a few references to other books and food, and in the very back of the book, George was kind enough to include a list of all the books mentioned and their healing nature, as well as recipes for some classic French dishes.
I love a good love story, especially one set in Paris, especially one that also involves the adoration of books and their ability to heal, and I love good French food. I wish I could just put my finger on why this book hasn't become my favorite of the summer.
My only explanation is that it was a bit too much of everything.