John's Reviews > The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
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it was ok

I was expecting this book to be about, well, a little Paris bookshop.

It isn't.

At the start, bookseller Jean Perdu has a big barge on the Seine in Paris that he calls a literary apothecary: he judges the emotional needs of his customers and sells them the books he decides they need/deserve. It's a fun premise if a tad saccharine.

For two decades he's been mourning the married lover, Manon, who one day upped and left him leaving behind only a letter, which letter he's never read. Instead he's left it sealed in its envelope in a table drawer in the room in his apartment, also sealed up, that essentially was the scene of his love affair with Manon. In this room, the so-called Lavender Room, he imprisons his emotions and his memories.

But then one day a new and recently destituted neighbor moves in, Catherine, and he's persuaded to give her the table he never uses to help furnish her apartment. She finds Manon's unread letter and pressurizes him into opening it at last. What he reads there changes entirely his understanding of the relationship he shared with the now-dead Manon.

So he unhooks his barge and, in the company of Max, the nation's fashionable novelist du jour, who's eager to escape fans and expectations, sets off on a canal and river quest to discover both the memory of his once-love, Manon, and the future he can share with his new love, Catherine.

That's about the first 25 percent of the novel. The rest is taken up with the quest. No more Paris. No "little bookshop" in sight, ever (view spoiler).

This book was originally published in German as Das Lavendelzimmer, which translates as "The Lavender Room." The original title is absolutely apt because it perfectly describes what Jean is doing: opening up the Lavender Room and, for the first time in twenty years, having the courage to explore its contents -- his memories and emotions -- and thereby reawakening his ability to love. The abandoned Lavender Room has been not just a part of his flat but a part of him.

Instead we have a title that's wholly misleading.

Okay, so this is far from the first time I've begun a book under a misapprehension as to its nature, and often I've thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected ride -- sometimes precisely because of the unexpectedness. And I don't have any objections to the overall plot of The Little Paris Bookshop: I'm quite partial to canal trips, linear tales where characters come and go, lots of bookish references, tragically doomed romances -- all of that good stuff.

The way it's served up in this novel, though . . . well, I've just glanced at the notes I took while reading it and seen that one of them says: "The apotheosis of twee."

That's about it, really. The tweeness is adulterated from time to time by a refreshing blurt of earthiness, even (nicely observed) smuttiness, but I don't think there's enough of this to redeem the cloying syrup of the rest. There isn't even a villain to boo: as I got to the end of the book I realized that (unless memory fails) there's not a single character in it who isn't essentially a great big huggy sweetheart.

Oh, yes, there are plenty of group hugs, too.

What I am looking forward to is the movie (which I'm assuming is filming even as I type), because I do think The Little Paris Bookshop will make a great movie, with the oversweetened prose stripped away and -- because moviemakers always insist on this, rightly or wrongly -- a little dramatic tension inserted. But the novel itself, while obviously the vast majority of its readers have loved it, was not one for me.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 19, 2018 – Shelved
September 19, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Thank you so much for such a wonderful review to enjoy with my morning coffee. I feel like I will have a much better day now having enjoyed your wit so kindly expressed.

John Kathy wrote: "Thank you so much for such a wonderful review to enjoy with my morning coffee. I feel like I will have a much better day now having enjoyed your wit so kindly expressed."

Thanks for the kind words, Kathy. So twee's not your thing either?

message 3: by Kathy (new)

Kathy True. I am simply unable to enter country twee.

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