Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened. After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Translated from German by Simon Pare, The Little Paris Bookshop was another title on my highly anticipated releases of 2015. I mean, what bookworm isn't going to be curious about a story written around a man who doles out book titles as medicine, calling his bookshop The Literary Apothecary? No brainer, right?! Having now read the book, I personally feel the synopsis is a little misleading, at least in part.
From his boat on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs his floating bookshop where he listens to the life troubles of booklovers and suggests titles that would pertain to their particular situations. Jean's trouble is, he can't seem to heal from his own personal heartache, a woman who suddenly and mysteriously walked away from their relationship 20 years earlier, leaving only a sealed letter. For these 20 years, Jean has never opened the letter, assuming it would just be your garden variety "Dear John" type explanation that would only make the break sting more. Jean befriends a woman in his apartment building, who convinces him to finally find out what his old flame had to say for herself. When he does finally read the letter, Jean is shocked at what it says. So much so that he soon decides to take his boat and go on an impromptu boat trip chasing after old ghosts. Shortly after departure, he even writes in a letter to a friend, explaining his sudden need to up and leave all, "I'm off to tame my ghosts."
Now, the synopsis does mention Jean deciding to take this boat trip, and how he is joined by his friends, writer Max and chef Salvatore -- also hoping to find healing answers on the trip --- Salvatore wanting to heal his own love woes, Max wanting to feel inspired to write again. My issue is, given the title of the book, just how much the story focuses on the boat trip, rather than the books. Now, I can get into a good boat trip story when it's done well... the trouble here is even as a boat trip tale, it was only mildly interesting most of the time.
The reader hangs out while the guys float down the river indulging in guy talk, dancing tango in the clubs, getting kicked out of clubs, getting stoned on the boat deck.... but what about the books?! A title or bookish reference is sprinkled here and there but largely the books are just referenced when they are used to pay for this river trip when all other funds run short. Yet, right on the front jacket flap we find this book described as "a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives." There is one book (a fictional title) mentioned in the story that is described as being like life to Jean but I didn't feel like I, as the reader, got a solid idea as to why. He just mentions some passages that he found moving, but you don't get a strong sense of why this book seems to be everything to him.
I also struggled to understand Jean's fixation on his old flame, Manon. I found it to be more of a unhealthy and selfish (on Manon's part) situation. Manon is written as having this bohemian, gypsy-type spirit, speaking in poetics -- "you and I, we're like the stars" kind of stuff, without really saying much of anything. When she does talk of the love between herself and Jean, it's always about what he does for her, and what she must have from him. I just wasn't feeling her, the relationship being too conditional for my liking. But man, Jean would not let that girl go.
So yeah, unfortunately one of my highly anticipated reads turned out to be just so-so for me. Not terrible, just not all that memorable. It started out well, there were some nice bookish bits at the start that had me hopeful, such as this little nugget:
"Books aren't eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn't mean it's gone bad. What is wrong with old? Age isn't a disease. We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they've been around for longer?" ~Jean Perdu
But as a whole, it ended up falling a little flat for me. I will say that the most interesting character for me was Samy, a woman the guys fish out of the river one night, who ends up being very important to two of them later on. I did really enjoy the way she was written. But she doesn't make an appearance until near the last bit of the novel.
FTC Disclaimer: BloggingForBooks.com and Crown Publishers, a branch of Penguin Random House, kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.