As one would suspect from a French novel The Little Paris Bookshop is all about love (of people and of books), sex, food, regret, adventure and gorgeous French scenery. Written mainly in the third person, but focussing on one man’s life, this novel shares the story of Jean Perdu who is going through life as a broken man with the ambition to fix everyone but himself. On his waterborne boat-cum-bookshop, Perdu uses books as a means of medicating the soul but is unable to treat himself in the same way.
Nina George’s writing in this novel is exquisite. Every sentence rolls around in the mind and soothes, touches, pains or stimulates the senses. It’s both erotically sensual and romantically sad.
We are transported back and forth between a time when Perdu indulged in the company of a married woman, whose thoughts are also documented in the occasional excerpt from her travel diary, and his present life of simply getting through each day trying to feel as few emotions as possible. Their time together appears to be exciting, bittersweet, and ultimately traumatic. If you pardon the cliché, it would only be right to deem this novel as one of the most enticing emotional rollercoasters a writer has ever taken me on and I loved every moment of it. This was one of those books that I read casually for a while (for the first few chapters) and then I suddenly found that I could not put it down as an early turn of events ensured I was hooked; I was transported on a whistle-stop tour of the French coastline upon which I encountered writer’s block, new-found friendship, the hope of big love following the loss of little love and many other lost souls who refused to lose hope.
Even as someone in a happy, long term – although long distance…sigh – relationship, I could feel the pang of Perdu’s loss. Each word expressed his emotions so vividly that I was truly affected. However, despite all this heartache, the misery Jean feels is in no way aggressive: it is an ever present force, but not impeding. It isn’t upsetting, merely moving (and I don’t mean “merely” in a negative ‘this is just about adequate’ sense, more like ‘it should be heartbreaking but it’s actually much more bearable than you would expect’). It is all very well crafted, as any book dealing with such raw emotion should be.
I would also like to point out that amid the turmoil of regret, the pang of lovesickness and erotic flashbacks there are also many funny moments. One special piece of information I have taken from this book as words of wisdom, comfort and utter joy are these: “pasta makes women bellissima“. Thank you Cuneo, thank you! May you never feel guilty again. You want that big bowl of penne? Well now you can, safe in the knowledge you will only become more beautiful the more carbs you eat. (Not that I need to change my habits now – as I buy my pasta 3kg at a time – but it’s nice to hear somebody say it’s not only okay but good feels great.)
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fiction, food, indulgence, cats, music, and sun, or is experiencing grief, loss or writer’s block – or somebody who simply wants to be transported away from their own troubles with the hope that things can improve, no matter how long it takes. This is one of those books I will cherish for a long, long time.