The Little Paris Bookshop

A book review

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As part of my series of reading books about books, reading The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George could not have more fooled me more with such a seemingly cliched title.

With a title of such grossly romantic connotation, thanks to the rose-colored weight of the word “Paris”, I was pleasantly surprised that Ms. George’s plot was intricate and was laced heavily with themes of death, oblivion, coming-of-age, and the process of mourning.

The main character, Monsieur Jean Perdu, a middle-aged Parisian widow, living with a broken heart for almost half his life, begins his story as a cold, sad bookstore owner with very little concern for any other human than the girl in his memory who never leaves his mind, though she left him nearly thirty years before. When he is not moping around his empty apartment, Perdu spends his time running a peculiar bookstore. Perdu’s The Literary Apothecary is essentially a bookstore settled on the flat of a book barge that is anchored to the iconic river Seine in Paris. The most curious thing about this floating bookstore is the origin of its name. Perdu claims that there is a “book to soothe any ailment”, thus the name Apothecary. This references a progressive form of healing called “bibliotherapy”, defined as “the use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders”.

Jean Perdu is a notably observant character, thanks in part to his introversion, which results in his accurate “diagnosis” and “prescription” of books to help heal people who come into his store. Many who stop in the little book barge are regulars, chasing literature for healing just like an addiction to drugs. Others who venture aboard are initially skeptical of Perdu and his practice, however many take the risk and make the purchase. Despite his gruff, “lone-wolf” exterior, many characters are drawn to Perdu and desire a friendship or relationship with him.

One of these characters is Catherine, a newly divorced woman pushing 60, who constantly attempts to break down his walls and understand the thoughts that plague the mysterious Monsieur Jean Perdu. However, beginning to catch feelings, Perdu panics and pulls up the anchor to the Literary Apothecary, his beloved book barge that has not left port in twenty-five years.  With him, Perdu brings along a stowaway: a twenty-something, immature author named Max Jordan, who is struggling with a case of writer’s block and is scared that he will never write a sequel good enough to measure up to his first novel. These two men, though differing in age, both share a need to grow up a little, face their fears, and let go of the past. Their journey down the river seine is thrilling, adventurous, and exotic, as they port-hop out of Paris and into the French countryside. Along the way, they meet all kinds of people who share their stories and some who tag along for portions of the ride. With essentially no money to their name, Jordan and Perdu make trades with books on the boat for food and wine.

The Literary Apothecary is classified under “contemporary romance” and was originally released in January 2013 and was written in German. It was translated to English in 2015 and published in the United States by Broadway Books.

Every word that George writes is smooth like butter, and the plot ebbs and flows like the river Seine itself. For a book set in Paris, George painted the scenes in the city’s true colors, while still giving the setting a warm, romantic feel that was not at all abhorrent. Reading this book was a pleasure and is definitely on my list of re-reads. I loved the idea of bibliotherapy, and my only regret is that St. Louis does not have professionals to prescribe me books to soothe my piling anxiety. Until then, though I am no Perdu, I prescribe this book to anyone who is suffering from a bad case of wanderlust and wishes to fall in love, to take a chance, and to go on a journey to take the mind far away from the halls of Parkway South.

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The Little Paris Bookshop