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
This book has been described as of interest to fans of the movie Possession starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart. While it's true that there areThis book has been described as of interest to fans of the movie Possession starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart. While it's true that there are similarities - romance among two people brought together by new findings that shed light upon a piece of British history - the pacing of this novel would have been much better served as a movie. While I am glad I read it, I can't say I simply enjoyed it.
The story got lost for me in the emphasis placed on everything from the detailed descriptions of the British and Welsh countrysides to ancient historical events and genealogies to dreamscapes (which really seemed most out of place) to almost everything but the forward momentum of the story itself. I could see how the sweeping vistas would be gorgeous in a movie, or how the impeccably researched historical elements might appeal to history buffs, but I wanted more meat to the story itself. The very writing itself seemed to contain a kind of stereotypical British constraint that was occasionally swept aside by a fanciful phrase that almost did more to distract than add, it being so out of place.
All of that said, something about it kept me reading, maybe because the pacing was just enough to hook me in as I was about to give up with some new piece of the mystery or new development in a character's relationship. I did like the characters: Donald Gladstone is the co-main character along with Julia Llewelyn. He's an archaeologist; she's a researcher for the OED. Her husband, Hugh Mortimer, I thought was the least realized character, despite his rather central role in the end. Some intriguing minor characters come in, with Donald's American ex-wife being my least favorite, mostly because she either put on airs as a character or the author genuinely believes American women act like this (either one being of extreme annoyance to me).
A slow build for sure, I was almost most disappointed in the ending, for right as there is a final build-up to the actual find that brings all the various pieces of the historical mystery together, the author prefers to write something prosaic and leave it all to our imagination, what happens next, as opposed to giving the reader some closure - which, ironically I felt, was something several of characters throughout the novel were looking for (closure). Overall, I'd recommend less historical reference, more character development....more
My friend asked me why I gave it only two stars, and this was my response. It's masquerading as a review:
I really wanted to like it! It was on my TBRMy friend asked me why I gave it only two stars, and this was my response. It's masquerading as a review:
I really wanted to like it! It was on my TBR list, and then a book group I'm in chose it, so I was excited to pick it up. But it just annoyed the crap out of me almost from the beginning. I think it has a lot to do with the place I'm at in my own life right now, but everyone was SO whiny and self-centered and dishonorable that I had a lot of trouble feeling comfortable with any of the characters. Everyone was just so f-ing PASSIVE! "Wah, this all happens TO me. I'm in these situations I don't like but will continue to go along with because someone else is steamrolling right over my (mostly internal) weak protests." Pasquale was the only one I actually LIKED (though I get you don't have to like a character to connect with a book), and it wasn't just because I was proud of him for doing the right thing, but because he did something - anything - at all to change his life. Even Dee said at one point that being with her husband was like being on an island - like she was just waiting with him in this middle period, waiting for her life to begin (which was a HUGE theme throughout the course of the book). But she doesn't consciously DO anything to change her life, or her son's life, until Pasquale re-enters (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers in case anyone else reads this rant). In terms of the writing style, again that was something I really wanted to like, because in theory, I'm super supportive of multiple POVs and various narrative styles to move plot forward, but the way it was executed made me feel uncomfortable (again) and disjointed and vaguely annoyed almost the entire time. Then there's the writing itself, which I thought was a little rambly and whiny and self-congratulatory and cliched on the existential bits (and there was a part where the author consciously used a big metaphor and chose El Dorado when Don Quixote would have been a much better and more relatable choice). Also, I didn't like the last chapter, except for the very last Pasquale/Dee part. I suppose some argument could be made that wrapping up their story was given greater context by wrapping up the other loose ends of secondary and even tertiary characters, but the wrap-ups seemed too pat for me. There were two beautiful lines in the entire book that gave me pause, and other than that, the writing didn't knock my socks off. So, all of that combined, two stars....more