At the beginning of Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop, fifty-year-old bookseller Jean Perdu is told that he is ‘cashmere compared with the normal yarn from which men are spun’. The owner of a book-filled barge, moored upon the Seine and called the Literary Apothecary, he ‘could not imagine what might be more practical than a book’.
Jean decided to open his bookshop in order to aid Paris’ citizens, believing that ‘it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They looked after people’. He says: ‘I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognised as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in… The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end…. Or those birthday motning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood. Things like that’.
Jean, a lonely bachelor who is mourning a lost love, intrigues from the very beginning: ‘Over the course of twenty-one summers, Monsieur Perdu had become as adept at avoiding thinking of __ as he was at stepping around open manholes. He mainly thought of her… as a pause amid the hum of his thoughts, as a blank in the pictures of the past, as a dark spot amid his feelings’. George goes on to write that he had ‘become extremely good at ignoring anything that might in any way arouse feelings of yearning. Aromas. Melodies. The beauty of things’. We get a feel for Jean and his sadness immediately: ‘The two rooms he still occupied [in his apartment complex] were so empty that they echoed when he coughed’.
Characters who remain upon the periphery throughout are used as a clever tool to allow us to learn about the novel’s protagonists. The gossips in Jean’s apartment building at 27 Rue Montagnard are perhaps the best example of this technique.
One of George’s strengths lies in the way in which she builds geographical locations: ‘Over it all drifted the perfume of Paris in June, the fragrance of lime blossom and expectation’. The Little Paris Bookshop is filled with some lovely and rather thoughtful ideas, particularly with regard to those which shape themselves around literature: ‘We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they’ve been around for longer?’
The Little Paris Bookshop is a largely charming work, which has been intelligently written. George has taken a relatively simple plot and given it depth. The only thing which let the book down as far as I am concerned is the sheer predictability which a lot of the plot sadly succumbs to.