On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a 'literary apothecary', for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.
The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust - until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.
Jean Perdu is no ordinary bookseller. From his barge on the Seine, he carefully matches book to customer, believing strongly in the healing power of books. A wonderful and intriguing start to the book which had me drawn in from the start. Sadly, though, although he has a book for everyone who comes to him, books don’t work their magic for Jean. 21 years ago, he was left heartbroken when his beloved abandoned him and he locked up a room in his flat. A caring man, he observes much but shows little of himself to those around him. When need calls though, he opens up the room and gives a table, a chair and a vase to a new neighbour. The neighbour finds a letter left by Jean’s beloved and on reading the letter he realises he has been under a misconception all these years. So he sets off for Provence, seeking out the past.
Jean is accompanied by a young writer, Max Jordan, and the pair meet many people on their voyage, each having an impact and shaping what they would become. None of the characters are perfect but their flaws only serve to make them both likeable and believable – the author’s empathy shines through, as does her love of books. I love the way Jean’s journey in his barge gives the opportunity for this wonderful and varied cast of characters to drift into the story, each leaving behind something of themselves.
It’s wonderfully descriptive – the reader is transported to Paris and across France through vivid and evocative language which makes you want to be there. It’s not a book to rush through; it’s a book to savour and relish. A nice extra touch at the end comes in the form of some French recipes, plus some interesting book suggestions. It’s a wonderful affirmation of the power of books – books of all kinds for all people. A powerful novel about grief, of finally learning to live with what can’t be changed and finally coming to terms with it. It left me feeling totally satisfied – more, I won’t say. A book for book lovers everywhere.
I'd like to thank Poppy at Little Brown for sending us a copy of The Little Paris Bookshop and Sarah for reviewing it for the blog.