Friday, October 21, 2016

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Ah!  A bookshop in Paris, France, a love story, and a most unusual librarian – what could possibly be better?  I did not need to read any of the impressive blurbs on the dust jacket to purchase Nina George’s wonderful novel, The Little Paris Bookshop.  She was born in 1973 in Bielefeld, Germany and is a prize-winning and bestselling author and freelance journalist since 1992, who has published 26 books, including novels, mysteries, and non-fiction.  Bookshop is apparently her first work translated into English.

I was hardly 20 pages into the novel, when it occurred to me I was reading another excellent novel comparable to Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is on the list of my favorite novels and holds a firm spot on our desert island shelf.

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a sort of apothecary.  He has a peculiar talent for assessing what troubles his customers, and he “prescribes” books for them to read.  Chapter three begins thusly, “‘No,’ Monsieur Perdu said again the following morning.  ‘I’d’ rather not sell you this book.’ // Gently he pried Night from the lady’s hand.  Of the many novels on his book barge – the vessel moored on the Seine that he had named Literary Apothecary – she had inexplicably chosen the notorious bestseller by Maximilian ‘Max’ Jordan, the earmuff wearer from the tird floor in Rue Montagnard, [his apartment building]. // The customer looked at the bookseller, taken aback. // ‘Why not?’ // ‘Max Jordan doesn’t suit you.’ // ‘Max Jrodan doesn’t suit me?’ // ‘That’s right.  He’s not your type.’ // ‘My type.  Okay, Excuse me, but maybe I should point out to you that I’ve come to your book barge for a book.  Not a husband, mon cher Monsieur.’ // ‘With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry, ma chère Madame.’ // She looked at him through eyes like slits. // ‘Give me the book, take my money, and we can both pretend it’s a nice day.’ // ‘It is a nice day, and tomorrow is the start of summer, but you’re not going to get this book.  Not from me.  May I suggest a few others?’” (11-12).  I fear, if I were ever to open a bookstore, this would be my fate.  I remember a long-closed bookstore in downtown Philadelphia, whose proprietor, might ban a shopper for refusing to buy a book he deemed essential to any library.

On page 13, George begins the first of numerous literary references, the first being The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  Perdu is obsessed with finding the author of a novel, Southern Lights.  Nina writes, “So Monsieur Perdu kept on searching. // For two decades he had been analyzing the rhythms of the language, the choice of words and the cadence of sentences, comparing the style and the subject matter with other authors’.  Perdu had narrowed it down to eleven possible names: seven women and four men. // He would have loved to thank one of them, for Sanary’s Southern Lights was the only thing that pierced him without hurting.  Reading Southern Lights was a homeopathic dose of happiness.  It was the only balm that could ease Perdu’s pain – a gentle, cold stream over the scorched earth of his soul” (32).

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a delightful story with many moments of humor and a heart wrenching love story.  5 stars

--Chiron, 10/16/16

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Richard Russo has penned another novel which adds to the ten excellent books in his portfolio.  His latest, Everybody’s Fool, is a sequel to Nobody’s Fool.  For this novel he returns to the town Old Bath in upstate New York.  Lots of familiar characters have aged since then – some gracefully, others not so much – and of course, the competition with the nearby town of Schuyler Springs continues, even though Old Bath is lagging further and further behind.  Sully, Miss Beryl, the English teacher, Clive, Carl, Rub, Clarice, and Bootsie are all welcome parts of his eleventh novel.

Russo is a novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and teacher.  He was born in Johnstown, NY in 1949.  Nobody’s Fool has made its way to the big screen starring Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, and Jessica Tandy, which garnered two Oscar nominations and a half-dozen other awards.  I suspect Everybody’s Fool might follow that same path considering a glowing review from The Houston Chronicle.  My favorite of his novels is Straight Man, and I would surely love to see that come to film.

One of the more interesting characters is Sully.  He served, and was wounded, in World War II.  Russo writes, “…he hadn’t been sure then and still wasn’t now, even after the VA diagnosis.  Had he gotten off easy?  During the war he’d somehow managed to be standing in the exact right place while more talented men and better soldiers happened to be standing in the exact wrong one.  Often, that was right next to Sully.  For a while there on Omaha Beach there’d been a new, utterly lethal lottery every few seconds.  Through diligence and judgment and skill you could improve your odds of survival, but not by much.  All the way to Berlin, the calculus of pure dumb luck had ruled, Sully its undeniable beneficiary. // But that had been war.  When the shooting finally stopped and the world returned to something like sanity and he again had the leisure to reflect, things felt different” (58).  The boom which followed the end of the war never quite made it to Old Bath.  Corrupt contractors, con men, and criminals all contributed to the towns decline.

One of the more interesting characters is Chief of Police Raymer.  He has recently lost his wife to cancer, and he wallows in self-pity all the while obsessing over a garage door remote he found in his wife’s car.  Despite threats from the Mayor, he jeopardizes his job by trying to locate the matching garage.  He is convinced his wife planned on leaving him.  Russo writes, “Raymer recognized Rub Squeers, Sully’s sidekick, sitting in the small patch of shade […].  Something about his posture suggested that he was weeping.  Could he be?  Was he, too remembering a loved one buried nearby?  Was he too, yearning for a new life, a new line of work?  Maybe he’d like to swap jobs, Raymer thought, because digging graves, compared with law enforcement, would be both peaceful and rewarding.  The dead were past being troubled by the world’s injustice.  Nor did they resist order.  You could lay them out on a grid by the thousands without a single complaint.  Try that on the living and see where it got you” (67).  I do not want to give the impression this novel is morbid.  Plenty of humorous moments occur, along with some suspense, while Raymer tries to track down an ex-convict bent on revenge with a hit list.

I read Nobody’s Fool in the 90s, and found Everybody’s Fool even better.  I think it might be interesting to re-read these two novels one after the other for a more complete picture of Richard Russo’s outstanding talent as a novelist.  5 Stars.

--Chiron, 10/9/16