There are two things that make the bookshop in The Little Paris Bookshop unique. The first is that, instead of a brick and mortar building, it is a floating barge on the Seine. The second is that the proprietor, Jean Perdu, considers it a “Literary Apothecary,” and he a literary pharmacist. He has the uncanny ability to strike up a conversation with customers and within a few minutes understand what is troubling their souls. And, after discovering their ailment, he “prescribes” a work of fiction that will cure their pain. He “wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in, because they are apparently too minor and intangible.” He has quite a regular following, along with perchance unsuspected one-time browsers.
Perdu has been living with a pain in his heart for 21 years, when the love of his life, Manon, left him suddenly. With the loss, he emotionally sealed himself off from others. Although he would connect with customers through literature, he built a wall and rejected any advances by neighbors and customers who sought to know him on a personal level. Until a new neighbor, Catherine, an attractive recent divorcee, arrives and sparks his interest. As he tries to connect with her, he realizes the healing of the past needs to be completed before he can commit himself fully in the present and future.
So, he decides to embark on a journey to find himself and heal. Interestingly, the name Jean Perdu means “Lost John” in French and finding himself is the overarching plot of the novel. Against Jean’s wishes, Max Jordon, a young author and neighbor, climbs aboard and insists on coming along. After his successful first novel catapulted him to fame, Max has lost his will to write – his “muse” that had been his raison de vivre has abandoned him. The two men are in the same boat – literally and figuratively.
Along the way, Jean and Max meet up with Cuneo, an Italian chef who has lost the love of his life after only one magical, spectacular night. As the three men journey on, they connect through their losses and form a pseudo-family to replace their mutual loneliness and despair. In doing so, they are able to support one another and allow each other to be open and honest when facing their solitary pain. The camaraderie, Cuneo’s cooking, and the wine and beauty of the French countryside all contribute to bringing the men back to life – back to their “senses.”
The major themes of the novel are love, loss, and literature. I love the idea that one can be healed through the power of literature. Perdu was not prescribing nonfiction self-help books, but classic fictional literature. When we connect with powerful stories and characters, we can relate vicariously and find hope. However, just like the old stories of the cobbler’s children without shoes and the doctor that smokes, Perdu wasn’t able to take his own medicine. Instead of literature’s healing him, it took acceptance of friends and fully experiencing the pain of loss to come out on the other side.
The author, Nina George, is a prolific author with 26 novels on her resume. She has created her own book apothecary online, where you can input your mood, and the website will recommend a book for you. Try it out at www.readitforward.com/book-apothecary and then support your local bookstore when you purchase.
Watch Rebekah Hendrian, book buyer for The Book Nook and Java Shop on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, May 2. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, May 2 for a discussion of The Little Paris Bookshop at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.