Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: "The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George
First published in the U.S. in 2015
370 pages plus recipes and extras
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Quotable Quote:
"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."

The Short Of It:
Le sigh. I had such high hopes for this book, but I actually struggled quite a bit to get through it. It redeemed itself toward the end, but sadly, it wasn't my favorite.

The Long Of It:
Reading certain books feels like slipping into a comfortable, welcoming, cozy hideaway. I feel invested in the characters, I'm dying to know how their story turns out, and I keep coming back for more -- even if it means staying up way past my bedtime. Other books are a fight and a struggle to get through, and I'm very disappointed to say that the majority of "The Little Paris Bookshop" was that way for me.

Monsieur Jean Perdu owns the Literary Apothecary, a unique bookstore housed in a boat that floats on the Seine, and he has a talent for knowing exactly what book a person needs to fix what ails him. He lives alone in his sparse Paris apartment, owns three identical sets of the same outfit, has no real friends other than a pair of cats who frequent his bookshop, and puts together the same 50,000 piece jigsaw puzzle over and over. He used to be vibrant, happy and alive. But 21 years ago, something happened to poor Jean Perdu that caused him to stop living and become a shell of a human. Books have become his comfort, his companions, his escape and his life.

That book-centric plot certainly sounds intriguing and I fully expected this book to be one of my favorite reads of the year, but I just could not get into the story. I had to force myself over and over to pick it up and read. The last 50 pages were the best of the book -- not only because it was ending, but because our characters finally stopped being moronic idiots! One of the problems I had with the book was the characters doing things that didn't make sense on top of being not very likeable. I despised Manon (the most selfish character on the planet, for most of the book), Jean's lover from two decades ago whom we get to know through her journal entries. And there were just so many annoyingly unrealistic scenarios. Who rides horses naked?! (That sounds highly uncomfortable!) I'm pretty sure that telephones existed in 1992. Looking at you, Manon! The romances were sickly-sweet and pretty far-fetched (if there's a man as puppy-dog devoted and gentlemanly as Jean Perdu, I'd like to meet him!). There are more spoiler-y things that I won't mention so as not to spoil things, but suffice it to say I think I had a hard time becoming involved in the story because the characters' actions were not always realistic -- and perhaps Jean and Manon were too flawed to relate to.

I think things were bad from the start because of the misleading cover -- and, by the way, I love this cover. But the curly-cue handwriting, the colorful book stamp, the pink clouds and the antique streetlamp led me to believe the book would be far more charming and quirky than it was. I expected it to be the Paris version of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." Wrong! While it did have its cute and cheery moments, I found it to be far more often depressing, irritating, infuriating and sad. The title is misleading as well. The original German title is "The Lavender Room," which ties in much better to the story. Only the first part of the book is set in Paris, and while there is indeed a bookshop, it is definitely not the star of the story (that would be our pitiful Jean Perdu and his quest to regain his sense of self).

Another issue I had was the writing. Nina George is clearly a talented author and her novel is filled with wonderful quotes (many about reading), but the book was translated from German and it didn't always flow well, especially at the beginning, which is part of the reason it took me so long to read this book. And some of the word choices were odd -- like saying "tummy" when "stomach" would've been more appropriate.

Though I have plenty of gripes, this was hardly the worst book I've read this year. And the premise of a literary "pharmacist" and a bookstore on a boat were both interesting and original. And I did really like one of our secondary characters, eclectic and intelligent young author Max. And all of our characters, annoying though they may have been, managed to redeem themselves at the end. It was enough to earn an ok-read 3-star rating.

I've avoided looking at other reviews for "The Little Paris Bookshop," but judging from all the hype it got I'm probably in the minority on not loving it. I don't want to dissuade you from reading it -- but please know that the cover and title are not really accurate descriptions of what lies in these pages! Maybe if you're not expecting something as lighthearted and delightful as I was, you won't be thrown off by the more serious topics that the book delves into.

1 comment:

  1. I felt exactly the same about this book, the last part was what I liked the best, but some how the story didn't really flow etc. I read the German version and agree that the English title and cover are even more misleading!


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