The Little Paris Bookshop
by Nina George
“ He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers.
They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world.
In life. In love. After death. ”
Monsieur Perdu is a doctor, of sorts.
He is a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, and from his well-worn barge filled to the brim with books of every size, shape, theory, and subject, he prescribes what he believes to be the perfect book to cure what ails each patient that willingly walks across his nautical threshold. Upon his seaworthy shop, Lulu, Perdu can alleviate the woes of any heart, give credence to the most unrequited of loves, he can stay any deeply rooted anger, and he can bring laughter to the sourest soul.
But although he can almost always find the answer for healing his readers, he sits alone most nights in his home at number 27 Rue Montagnard, wondering whatever happened to that woman he was in love with. She was his soulmate, the woman who left him. Manon was the one who made the sun bright and the night sultry, and she left him without a whisper of a proper goodbye. Or so he thought.
From his quiet apartment in a building full of colorful characters, Monsieur Perdu can hear the newest tenant crying. She is the soon-to-be divorcee of a veritable swine. The man she was married to walked out on her, leaving her with next to nothing, and she is the current gossip of the building. Something in the woman’s incessant tears, heard from behind an oval-shaped glass door, reaches out to the long-forgotten recesses of Perdu’s heart and he is called to her service in the only way he knows how – in the literary sense. He has avoided emotional connections with people since his great love left him, but he is drawn to the mystery woman behind the glass door.
” He had his cheek almost pressed up against the glass.
He whispered, “But I can give you a book as well.”
The light in the staircase went out.
“What kind of book?” the oval whispered.
“The consoling kind.”
“I need to cry some more. I’ll drown if I don’t. Can you understand that?”
“Of course. Sometimes you’re swimming in unwept tears and you’ll go under if you store them up inside.” And I’m at the bottom of a sea of tears. “I’ll bring you a book for crying then.”
“Tomorrow. Promise me you’ll have something to eat and drink before you carry on crying.”
He didn’t know why he was taking such liberties. It must be something to do with the door between them. “
Also in residence in the French apartment building is young author Max Jordan. His breakout hit Night is the stuff that cult classics are made of, and his following is full of an intense group of fans who harass and follow Jordan day and night. He never expected to become a bestselling author, certainly not with his book full of the desperate moves a young man will make as he tries to navigate the murky waters of women and love. As a result, Max is withdrawn and uncomfortable in his own skin, living as a recluse at the Rue Montegnard, trapped in a slump of writer’s block that is too difficult to even begin to climb over.
When Catherine, the mystery woman behind the door, tentatively approaches Perdu with a letter she found in the castoff kitchen table he left outside of her apartment (he had no use for it and she had no furniture, having been unceremoniously turned out by her swine of a husband), he is shocked. The woman who broke his heart years earlier had left him that letter as her final parting gift, and he had refused to read it, stuffing it away inside the old kitchen table and willfully forgetting about it — spending the rest of his life up until this moment trying to forget about the woman as well.
” He could be a stone in the mosaic of her life, he thought at the time. A beautiful, sparkling one, but a stone all the same, not the whole picture. He wanted to do the same for her.
Manon. The vibrant, never-dainty, never-perfect girl from Provence, who spoke with words that he felt he could grasp with his hands. She never planned; she was always entirely present. She didn’t talk about dessert during the main course, about the coming morning as she was falling asleep, about meeting again when saying good-bye. She was always in the now.
That August night 7,216 nights ago was the last time Perdu slept well; and when he woke up, Manon was gone.
He hadn’t seen it coming. He had thought it over again and again, had sifted through Manon’s gestures and looks and words — but had found no possible clue that could have told him she was already leaving.
And wouldn’t come back.
Instead, a few weeks later, her letter.
He had left the envelope on the table for two nights. He had gazed at it as he ate alone, drank alone, smoked alone. And as he wept.
Tear after tear had run down his cheeks and dripped onto the table and the paper.
He hadn’t opened the letter. “
What Perdu finds in the letter is not what he’d expected. It is, in fact, the opposite. He finds a few answers, but discovers he has even more questions. He fearfully tries to connect with Catherine on a heartfelt level, but finds himself clumsy and out of practice. Catherine is in the midst of inner turmoil and grief, and Perdu knows that now is not the right time for either of them — their current states are far too vulnerable for any intimacy to be of worth.
And so he decides it is time for him to stop allowing his life to live him and for him to instead, live his life. When Perdu spontaneously decides to set sail on his barge down the Seine in search of the conclusion to his love-story with Manon, he is surprised to find Max Jordan has resolved to come along for the ride. Max is an unlikely companion with his awkward style, but Perdu soon finds he has a soft spot for the boy. He allows Max to accompany him on his quest for closure, and their adventure down the river puts them in the path of several other bright characters — some who add to the bold liveliness of their journey and some who subsequently join them for adventures of their own.
Readers learn of Manon’s story through snapshots of her personal journals, finding out exactly why she left Perdu and her feelings for him. Monsuier Perdu eventually reaches his destination, although it is not quite the destination he intended when he set sail. He comes full circle and gains more than just closure along the way, cleansing his palate of the past and commencing upon a path of complete rebirth and emotional metamorphosis.
” In the afternoons, when the heat rose to dangerous levels, Perdu would lie motionless on his bed in nothing but a pair of shorts, with wet towels on his forehead, chest and feet. The terrace door was open, and the curtains swayed listlessly in the breeze. He let the warm wind caress his body as he dozed.
It was good to be back in his body. To feel that his flesh was sensitive and alive again. Not numb, limp, unused — an adversary. Perdu had got used to thinking with his body, as though he could stroll around inside his soul and peer into every room.
Yes, the grief lived on in his chest. When it came, it constricted his lungs, cut off his breathing and the universe faded to a narrow sliver. But he wasn’t scared of it anymore. When it came, he let it flow through him.
Fear occupied his throat too, but it took up less space if he breathed out slowly and calmly. With every breath he could make the fear smaller and crumple it up, and he imagined throwing it to Psst so that the cat could toy with the ball of anxiety and chase it out of the house.
Joy danced in his solar plexus, and he let it dance. He thought of Samy and Cuneo, and of Max’s hilarious letters, in which one name cropped up more and more frequently. Vic. The tractor girl. In his mind he saw Max running around the Luberon after a wine-red tractor, and he couldn’t help laughing.
Amazingly, love had settled on Jean’s tongue. “
The Little Paris Bookshop is not a romance, although there is some romance involved. It is instead a story of a man’s path to finding himself and doing it with a quiet, honest, and slow integrity that is very admirable. I found this book to be very sweet and heartfelt, and I really enjoyed the different characters that showed up along the way. They were written in such a vibrancy that made it very easy to picture them in my mind’s eye. I wanted to give Monsieur Perdu a big hug. He spent so much time taking care of others and their feelings that he forgot about his own healing.
This is not a heavy read and although it weighs in at 370 pages, it is not difficult to get through. It is a definite feel-good book and I was surprised to find it coming from an author who is known more for her science thrillers than her sentimentality. I would have enjoyed a bit more depth in Max’s character, as I found him particularly interesting. His story started off very strong and the author seemed to lose interest in him, which I felt was a shame.
I am rating The Little Paris Bookshop 4 out of 5 stars and I would recommend it for any reader 18+, due to a couple of scenes featuring suggestive sexual content.