This review originally appeared on my book blog, WildlyRead .
Full disclosure: I sobbed during the last three chapters and epilogue of this book. It waThis review originally appeared on my book blog, WildlyRead .
Full disclosure: I sobbed during the last three chapters and epilogue of this book. It was totally worth it.
First, though, I’d like to give major credit to the translator, Simon Pare, who translated this book from its original German into English. That must have been no easy task, as it was a book originally written in German, set entirely in France, and then translated for an American audience. There are so many words in German that have no direct English translation, and to also come up with the correct evocative phrases to describe the French landscape – it’s a masterpiece. I’m always extra impressed when I am blown away by a work in translation, especially when it’s in part due to the language. In those rare cases, I can only imagine 1) how astounding the original prose must be, if I’m that impressed by the translated text, and 2) how hard the translator must have worked to keep the emotion behind the words and the lyrical rhythm the original text must have had. Well done, Mr. Pare.
As you read from the publisher description, M. Perdu runs a bookshop on a barge in Paris that he refers to as a literary apothecary. He “diagnoses” people’s inner ailments, and “prescribes” books as treatments. Any bookworm can tell you, this should be considered a sound medical practice. Unfortunately for M. Perdu, he cannot heal himself from his own internal wound that’s been festering for 20 years. When a woman suffering from heartbreak moves in across the hall from him, circumstances lead to the wound being lanced, and thus begins M. Perdu’s internal as well as external journey to do everything he can to squeeze all the poison out of it (if you’ll pardon the slightly gross medical metaphor).
‘Do we only decide in retrospect that we’ve been happy? Don’t we notice when we’re happy, or do we realise only much later that we were?’ – pg. 233
When I read a book, I underline passages, I dogear pages, and sometimes I even spill drops of tea or tears onto it. That book becomes a part of my life, sleeping beside me, patiently waiting for me to pick it up again when I’ve had to put it down. This book had to be extra patient, as reading it made my own emotions feel raw and exposed, and I could only stand to feel that way for short bursts of time. What I would normally finish in one or two sittings took me one to two weeks, but in reality, savoring it in that way was exactly what this book needed.
Pain, for example, he said: it reverses the polarity of the cells. It starts after only three days: arousal cells become pain cells , sensory cells become fear cells, coordination cells become pincushions. Eventually tenderness only causes hurt; every breeze, every musical vibration, every approaching shadow triggers fear. And pain feeds hungrily on every movement and every muscle, breeding millions of new pain receptors. your insides are completely transformed and replaced, but it is inevitable from the outside.
By the end you want no one ever to touch you again, Vijaya says. – pg. 244
There were passages that were so achingly beautiful, I had to put the book down for a minute and do some deep breathing. There were other passages that stirred up such sensory memories of old personal wounds that I was left gasping for breath after reading a sentence or paragraph. There were descriptions of the French countryside that made me yearn to get on the next plane to Provence, and I couldn’t help a fleeting thought to Johnny Depp’s “river rat” portrayal from the movie Chocolat when M. Perdu and his companions were navigating the river.
This book talks about food in relation to life and love, describing sensory pleasures that makes your mouth water involuntarily. The secret tango culture and meet-ups add a nice level of depth to the characters and the meandering plotline, which resembles the river the barge is on – heading on a specific course with a firm destination, but happy to dip off into various tributaries along the way.
Jordan’s daring impressed Perdu. Yet the novel still struck him as a kind of gazpacho that kept sloshing over the edge of the soup bowl. Its author was just as emotionally defenceless and unprotected; he was the positive print of Perdu’s negative.
Perdu wondered how it must feel to experience things so intensely and yet survive. – pg. 17
Unlike many books, The Little Paris Bookshop does not end at the end of the main character’s physical or emotional journey. I’d like to think this is a commentary on how one’s emotional journey is never truly over, but regardless of the reason, it was immensely satisfying to see M. Perdu past the the traditional moment of journey’s end. It’s not entirely a “happily ever after,” but it was complete, no loose ends were left, and it was gratifying to see how all the threads came together and then continued on.
One of the most intriguing currents throughout the book was the reoccurring mention of M. Perdu’s Great Encyclopedia of Small Emotions, which he writes mostly in his head until the right time to put it down on paper. It’s a great way of cataloguing large and small meaningful moments in life, and made me think of one of my favorite books, The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan.
‘I’d rather write an encyclopedia about common emotions,’ he admitted. ‘From A for “Anxiety about picking up hitchhikers” to E for “Early risers’ smugness” through to Z for “Zealous toe concealment, or the fear that the sight of your feet might destroy someone’s love for you”.’
And speaking of love, my last note on this book is about how pleased I was to read about love and relationships and comfort and friendship and camaraderie still being figured out, agonized over, and eventually found/developed/settled into in characters that weren’t in their 20s or even their 30s (most of them), but into their 40s, 50s, and beyond. As a 30-year-old myself, it was refreshing to read about people still struggling with those concepts.
As one friend put it, this is a book that will make you feel (again), and though it hurts, it’s also gentle, and will let you feel at your own pace. I highly recommend you pick it up....more
Beautiful. Heartbreaking. I fell in love with the language of it and the romance of it and the way my heart still hurts now that I've finished it.
It'sBeautiful. Heartbreaking. I fell in love with the language of it and the romance of it and the way my heart still hurts now that I've finished it.
It's brilliant but terrible in its lack of traditional happy ending. Both parties end up with - as harsh as this sounds - what they deserve, but God it still hurts.
I never expected to find myself enjoying a book that spoke so much about Catholic God and faith, but they speak of it in a way that's palpable to an agnostic Jew, which I think really says a lot. I don't shy away from conversations about faith, and in fact, find belief and adherence to those beliefs and searching for those beliefs to be a very real and human and admirable thing. The way the author intertwined the search for faith and the belief in religion with the search and belief in love was, for lack of a better description, done incredibly well. It didn't feel too didactic or heavy-handed, probably because Frances was so pragmatic about the whole thing. To say I enjoyed it doesn't pay homage to the way my heart feels torn apart, but throughout 3/4ths of this book, I did absolutely enjoy reading about Frances and Bernard falling in like and then in love and then I had to figure out what to do about how very much I respected Frances for her convictions and living up to them while I also very much believe in Bernard's declarations of love and try to live my own life believing in it.
*Spoiler alert in the next paragraph!
The one tiny glitch that I am still thinking about is how Bernard's character was framed after his marriage to Susan - all his infidelities. We are absolutely influenced by those we love most, and so though it is possible that Frances might have been influenced for the worse by Bernard's character, was it not also possible that in marrying Bernard, Frances could have been the making of him instead? Was Bernard's character allowed to run out of check because of Susan's character, herself?
That aside, it's going to take me a little while to build back up from all that again. Some books are supposed to make you feel like that.
I feel like I underlined half the book, but here are some particular favorites:
"I thought I had been growing up by unleashing my strength and mind onto the world, by imposing myself and not being afraid of it, but this suddenly began to seem like a lifetime of tantrums. I'd gotten used to having too much, at having whatever I willed become real, which had made my will promiscuous. Not strong at all." (19)
"She is a girl, but she is also an old man, and I see that there is intractability in her heart that may never be shattered. Perhaps that is because she grew up among women who love harder than they think, and she has strengthened her innate intractability in order to keep tunneling toward a place where she could write undisturbed by the demands of conventional femininity. So she may always think harder than she loves." (48)
"My life without you would certainly be less. That is one think I know." (77)
"'Bernard,' I said, and took his hand. 'No, no, that's not enough,' he said. He took the package out of my other hand, put it down on a chair, and then pulled me to him. He was right. That wasn't enough." (81)
"I wonder what of your mother was encoded in you without your knowing; what of your life is a letter she wrote you that you have just opened and will take your whole life to read." (85)
"...people who made a point to weave themselves together because they had poured out their blood among one another. They may be annoyed with each other, but they do not hate each other. They understand that annoyance is a fair price to pay for the strange protective love of family." (132)
"You rely on your books for things the rest of us search for in people... 'Your books need no help from me. They are for you alone. When you don't want to be alone, then here I am.'" (177)...more