This is the second German novel about bookshops I have read recently (the other being Thomas Montasser’s “A Very Special Year”). Translated by Simon Pare this has been a big European seller and perhaps unsurprisingly given the title from an author who lives in Brittany and Hamburg it is far more Gallic than Germanic.
It is a novel about moving on and is one that might provoke more response at times in our lives when this feels relevant. Jean Perdu’s bookshop is on a restored barge and it seems to be a fabulous place. The owner sees it as his “literary apothecary” and loves to prescribe books for his customers depending on their needs. I relished this aspect of the story but George is quick to move on and let the books take more of a back seat than I was expecting (certainly more than in the Montasser novel). Perdu (appropriately French for “lost”) is stuck in his own life from a relationship that ended suddenly twenty years ago. An attempt to get back into the romance game leads to a discovery and a setting sail for the barge on a canal journey south. He is joined by Max, a young author struggling with celebrity and a couple of cats together with others with their own issues who they meet along the way.
The experience of the voyage rather than the books themselves provide the stimulus for lives to be put back in order- the books are used as currency and occasional free gifts. There’s a lot of French food (recipes at the back) and those Francophiles who relish the attitude and way of life of the French (admittedly from a German point of view) will lap this up. As far as I was concerned it did not hang together consistently. I was involved, then frustrated, involved then frustrated. The fact that I did not get wholly dragged into the story did make me feel like a cynical curmudgeon and that’s not the best self-image to be left with after completing the book.
Perhaps if I had read it another point in my life Nina George’s gentle tale of facing up to things which freeze us might have really won me over. As it is, like the restored barge, it just drifted along. I wanted the book boat to have a more central role. I did very much enjoy the main character’s prescription of an Emergency Literary Pharmacy of book titles at the end.
It’s hard not to compare it with the Montasser novel as both are recently published, are on similar themes and translated from German. I think the Montasser just has it for me, although it is a slighter read. I think both choices, however, would be good for reading groups or book clubs.
The Little Paris Bookshop was published by Abacus in 2015.