Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

by Charlotte Cliffe

Review on The Little Paris Bookshop:”Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.”

50-year-old Jean Perdu hasn’t lived for 21 years. The man has simply existed, wearing the same outfit, eating the same thing and redoing the same puzzle (really). He’s also been hiding from a letter that he hasn’t had the courage to read, day in and day out. His only raison d’etre (when in France!) is to help others find the help they need. This is whether they want it or not, amongst the pages of the books he ‘prescribes’ from the Literary Apothecary, his book barge moored on the banks of the Seine.

Until he finally does read the letter and casts off down the river. Heading south to Provence in the company of two cats and an anxious young author. He picks up a lovesick Italian and an impetuous book guild chair-woman along the way. As the story unfolds, we get a glimpse into the events of the past 21 years leading up to the most impulsive moment of Perdu’s middle-aged life. This is interspersed with postcards and letters sent back to Paris, to his heartbroken new neighbour, Catherine.

“They ate and they laughed. The sun went down to their right, the moon came up to their left; they were enfolded in the luxurious scent of the harbour flowers. The cats explored the surrounding area, and later they kept the men company from their vantage point on top of an overturned book crate. Jean Perdu was overcome by an unfamiliar sense of tranquillity.”

Lovers of books

Readers have stated that they felt like they were ‘duped’ into reading a love story. I think that to describe it as just a love story is to over-simplify and to be honest, completely misses the point. Yes this is a love story, and yes Perdu’s journey starts and ends with a woman. But it is not just a love story. This is a book about books for lovers of books. It is also a book about grief, containing some of the rawest passages about emotions that I have ever read. It’s also a book about love and friendship and the healing power of reading, and of mouth-watering food and the beauty of nature.

Despite some cloying and cliché and somewhat predictable moments, the poetry-like prose and eccentric characters will charm you. There are incredible descriptions of food (recipes helpfully provided in the back of the book!), and of the French countryside. The Little Paris Bookshop seemed a little too perfect to be realistic to me. At the same time, I don’t think it’s meant to be wholly realistic. The lyrical writing gives it the dream-like, hazy tone of a perpetual summer.

If you wade through the sickly sweet moments and accept it for what it is, The Little Paris Bookshop is an enjoyable novel. It will make you want to hire a boat with some friends, pick up some good French wine and cheese, and simply have an amazing time.

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