"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

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Translated from the German by Simon Pare

One thinks of Hawthorne’s dictum about a book that takes the name of “Romance.” The definition of his day (please don’t think of modern-day bodice-busters) held that a Romance could play faster and looser with facts and with fictional effects than could the more demanding Novel, in which characters and events would have to conform to a more exacting standard. At the outset of The Little Paris Bookshop author Nina George introduces us to Jean Perdu (yes, John Lost). He has grieved for the last twenty years that the love of his life has left him.

He has abjured all female companionship, stayed out of the social and cultural whirl from the age of 30 to the age of 50, content the entire time to operate his floating bookshop at its mooring in the Seine. Ms. George goes to considerable lengths to establish that this was a love for the ages, and that M. Perdu’s protracted pain is a rational reaction, given his temperament. We don’t really have to get too used to these ideas because early on, Jean’s entire world comes crashing in on him, and he takes off, like Huck Finn, and starts to ride the river -  his life and his heart are undergoing wrenching change.

This is an intriguing and elegant stroke for the author: the charms, the happy diversions, and the good turns we yearn for for Jean commence when Jean’s odyssey commences. This very artful device carries us onward; the vivid descriptions of sunsets, emotional breakthroughs, charming company, and riveting French countryside form a rare and lovely reward for the reader.

And … as the narrative curves toward its anticipated resolution, it begins to sink into some overwrought emotional scenes.
These are not out of place; they don’t force the reader into any new or unwarranted territory. It’s only that the spigot is open too fully, particularly in the scenes between Jean and Luc, his former lover’s husband. Other descriptions, however, remain at an understated level.

Between the 20% mark and maybe the 90% mark, this book boasts lovely scenes, richly described and beautifully paced, of a man’s re-blossoming into the world of the living. His physical and symbolic journey along a series of French rivers and canals rewards the reader again and again. I would only wish for the tiniest bit of restraint as Jean faces - and tearfully handles - his ultimate emotional roadblocks. If you’re hankering for a moderately paced emotional reawakening for a sensitive, sympathetic man, this entry definitely will fill the bill.

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