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