June 23, 2015
The Little Paris Bookshop is a gem of a story written by Nina George. My book club chose this 2015 novel and the title drew me in immediately. I love to read any book written about or set in the City of Light. The bookshop referred in the title was a very unique bookshop—it was a barge moored on the Seine, filled with all sorts of books, as well as its proprietor, Jean Perdu, and two cats. Jean Perdu (Lost John) is a 50-something man who prescribes books to people to cure what ails them. Be it relationships, loves, family issues, politics, or work, Perdu knew the exact book to aid his customers in their quest for something they needed to heal or advance their lives.
Perdu used his ears, his eyes and his instincts. from a single conversation, he was able to discern what each soul lacked. to a certain degree, he could read from a body’s posture, its movements and its gestures, what was burdening or oppressing it. and finally, he had what his father had called transperception. “You can see and hear through most people’s camouflage. and behind it you see all the things they worry and dream about, and the things they lacked.”
So the next time I travel to Paris, I will be looking out for this sweet boat waiting for me on the Seine. Oh, how I wish!
Perdu is a wonderful helper to his customers, but his own life seemed very lonely and depressing. He lives in a building and interacts with some of his neighbors and concierge, but had suffered a tragic romance 20 years earlier and really had little social interaction or love life since then. Throughout the novel, George lets us know the circumstances of this great romance via Perdu’s recollections and a diary left by his lost love, Manon. One of the couples that live in his building are getting a divorce, and Perdu decides to bring the woman some books to help her heal and move on. As they talk and get to know each other, a bond forms and Perdu once again starts to feel his emotions and seems to want to love someone again.
One of the other neighbors in Perdu’s building is popular author, Max, whom Perdu really did not know well or hold in high esteem. He had sold many books recently and was always recognized in public, but Perdu paid little attention to him. This author was younger than Perdu and seemed to look up to him regardless of Perdu’s treatment of him. After meeting with the soon to be divorcée, Perdu’s emotions were running high when he decided on the spur of the moment to unmoor the Literary Apothecary, and travel the canals south and find out what really happened to his lost love. Max happened to be nearby and jumps aboard. An extraordinary adventure begins!
I don’t want to give any little thing away so I will stop where the real escapade commences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book from beginning to end. Not only were there magnificent quotes on love and reading and books all throughout, but Ms. George is obviously a Hemingway fan. She mentions the writer at least four times (more than the one or two times for most), and I think she even got the idea for part of her story from Hemingway’s life. Let me just say that at one point in his life, Hemingway was in love with two women at the same time.
Following are a few of the quotes I bookmarked as I read:
We cannot decide to love. We cannot compel anyone to love us. There’s no secret recipe, only love itself. And we are at its mercy–there’s nothing we can do.
Reading–an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.
Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, minimum retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.
“Saudade”: a yearning for one’s childhood, when the days would merge into one another and the passing of time was of no consequence. It is the sense of being loved in a way that will never come again. It is a unique experience of abandon. It is everything that words cannot capture.
All the love, all the dead, all the people we’ve known. they are the rivers that feed our sea of souls. If we refuse to remember them, that sea will dry up too.
The trouble is that so many people, most of them women, think they have to have a perfect body to be loved. But all it has to do is be capable of loving–and being loved . . .