“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful voice. Like a short, torrid love affair.”
– Jean Perdu, “The Little Paris Bookshop.”
The above quote accurately captures the purpose of this book if not entirely the premise. This is the first of 26 books Nina George has written and published to bestseller status, and it’s easy to see why. “Bookshop” is a story about a 50-something book doctor. He uses books to heal people’s emotions and therefore their lives, but he has spent the last 20 years grieving the loss of the love of his life. Jean Perdu has been afraid to live—afraid to even open the door to her room in his apartment.
Jean works on a converted barge (on the Seine) that is now a floating “Literary Apothecary” (la pharmacie littéraire) where people come to get a book and leave with a prescription for a better life. Meanwhile Jean is stuck. He has shut out all memories of his lover Manon after she left him 20 years ago and went back to her husband. Eventually Jean is spurred back to life when he reads the letter Manon left for him that he has finally willed himself to read. He undocks his barge and starts floating down the Seine on a search to find Manon and himself. Jean’s name, Jean Perdu, actually translates to John Lost in English, and we see over and over that he truly has lost himself.
This book is a journey. We start in grief, sadness, and fear. Jean and his companion, Max Jordan (a bestselling author scared to write his second book), are both afraid of life. They are afraid that it will never be as good as it was and that it can never live up to the past. But there is love here too. It isn’t just a romantic love, although Jean does want to find a way to love again (especially with his recently divorced neighbor), but it is the friendships made on the way and loving a town or a book.
It is a journey unlike anything that might be undertaken in America. Jean and Max journey down France’s waterways towards Provence working through the, busy channel full of locks, tourists, houseboats, canoes, and commercial freighters. Here their adventure begins. George captures the essence of a journey with her descriptions of both scenery and food. After all, what means more to a Frenchman than his food?
For many book lovers it is impossible to fix upon a singular book that has shaped us as wholly as Jean’s beloved copy of “Southern Lights” by the mysterious Sanary. For some it is as easy as telling you our name. George has fully captured what it means to love words and find the solace and courage in stories that we often lack in life. This isn’t a new idea, but George’s characters come to use almost fully realized, and as much as they learn from books they heal each other more.
Perdu eventually leaves his barge to some of his companions and sets out to see Manon’s countryside. George has painted Provence as the beautiful landscape it is. Even her main character realizes all he knows of the France are the streets of Paris. The hustle and bustle of Paris is nothing compared to the smell of salt and the color of the ocean. Jean finds himself swimming in the sea each day and mourning the loss of his life. He’s lost his purpose and his drive with his love, and his journey to get it back is enough to make you reevaluate what you have settled for.
“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.”
― The Little Paris Bookshop
Literally, Darling received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books.