Side effects of finishing this novel: A subconscious desire to read a poignant book whilst eating cheese and drinking a glass of buttery white wine at a nice cafe along the Seine (motivational posters always tell us to dream big and reach for the stars after all), the allowance of emotional vulnerability, and a newly developed but unapologetically unwavering expectation that all booksellers should be able to read your soul and fix your life’s conundrums.
Opening encouragement: Don’t hyperbolically pretend to hurl due to the sappiness of the following book description. Feelings are real and this book has a lot of them and the main character is a stoic old man who finally permits himself to live so you should too. This admonition is less bossy than intended.
Un-spoilery synopsis: Readjust your expectations if you hope to read a charming story that begins and ends with the day-to-day life of a small urbanely provincial French bookshop. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, while intermittently waxing nostalgic about the romance of literature and words, weaves a wonderful story of great love and great loss and the journey towards peace and forgiveness. Monsieur Jean Perdu is our beloved bookshop owner, a vintage man who wears “vigorously ironed” shirts with “carefully rolled up sleeves”. Despite his uptight and rigid description, he has a unique and affecting gift: he reads souls and prescribes books to cure the psychologically ailed – which is why the self-titled “Literary Pharmacist” named his barge, moored along the Seine in Paris, “The Literary Apothecary”. While he solves the emotional conditions of his customers, he cannot cure his own depression. He deeply buries any sort of feeling and avoids closeness to anyone except for two stray cats who’ve volunteered their company aboard his barge in exchange for scraps. The story arc truly begins when on one fated day, he is reacquainted with a decades-old unopened letter from a former sweetheart, his greatest love. After finally breaking the seal and reading it, he rashly cuts the ties that for years bound him to the shores of the Seine, taking off on a journey to discover the truth told within the letter. Along the way, he meets a cast of whimsical characters including Max Jordan, an author plagued with writer’s block and Salvatore Cuneo (aka Salvo), a charming Neapolitan cook on a quest for the love of his life. Readers of the novel are also invited on the journey along with Perdu to discover what’s at the end of his story, to experience adventure, to recollect memories from an impressionable and distant past, and to find reconciliation with loss along the way.
Personal Concluding Remarks: Readers may find themselves a bit travel-worn and exhausted at this novel’s conclusion, but in a good and fulfilling way. It’ll almost feel like just arriving home after a long vacation with a suitcase full of experience, adventure, worn out laundry, and a variety of new memories. Or what it must feel like when coming to the end of good life lived. Or that feeling after a good long cry where the worst is over and all that’s left is hope and solace. The characters are delightful and nostalgic and poignant in their self-discoveries and the story itself leaves everyone with the gumption to heal what’s past and acknowledge and sow the gifts presently bestowed to you. Also do read all of the appendices! They include Provençal recipes and Jean Perdu’s very own Literary Apothecary coupled with witty commentary (which is always by far one of the best types of commentaries to read).
“Memories are like wolves. You can’t lock them away and hope they leave you alone.”
“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.’”
“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair.”
“Books aren’t eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.”
“…it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”
“Often it’s not we who shape words, but the words we use that shape us.”
For Fans of:
Written by: Elise Cantini, winner of her 6th grade class’s Read-A-holic award (now many years later, the addiction continues)