The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Jean Perdu has a bookshop in Paris, but it isn't on one of their charming streets. No, his bookshop is on a barge on the Seine. That isn't the only thing about it that's extraordinary; Jean has a penchant for finding just the right book for each of his customers, and he won't sell them a book that he thinks isn't right for them. In fact, Jean Perdu named his bookshop the Literary Apothecary, prescribing books to heal peoples' souls. However, Jean only realizes that he hasn't known how to give himself the same advice, after a new tenant moves into the flat across from him. That's when he lifts anchor to navigate the rivers (and some roads) of France from Paris to Provence, to follow his own plot-line, to see if there's an ending to it that's different from the one he's been resigned to reaching for over 20 years.
Putting Jean Perdu on this boating trip was certainly an interesting twist on your usual coming-of-age novel, and yes, I do consider this book to be in that genre, despite the fact that Jean Perdu is in his 50s when this trip takes place. What George has done here is give us a gently flowing story, which bobs along with the current towards ever-clearer waters, steering us between, and sometime over some choppy the waves, along the way (yes, I know, but you probably should expect this from me by now).
Several of the blurbs about this book compared it to such novels as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which makes sense, probably because they're both set in France and translations from the French. While I often dislike such comparisons, I have to admit that overall, they do work in this case. For example, both stories are about self-discovery and love that comes only after an emotional journey. Another parallel is the slew of strange and unusual people that both Renée of Hedgehog and Jean Perdu of this novel encounter along the way. In both cases, the authors build the minor characters into the story in a way that reveals as much about each of them, without detracting from the protagonists. However, those around Renée nudge her towards this path, but in George's novel, Jean Perdu leads the charge. Finally, both of the titles of these novels are deceiving.
I have to admit, however, that of these two books, I think I liked Hedgehog a little bit better. The main difference for me was that George's novel investigated Jean Perdu's past in order for him to find his future; in Hedgehog, there is mostly the present and the possibilities for the future. I also felt that George's novel had a slightly clichéd ending, but Hedgehog avoided that completely. As for the writing (or should I say, translations) I also found Hedgehog to be more poetic and lyrical than this book - but that's a personal preference, which I realize not everyone will share.
All told, this is a very sweet book. The characters engage us, the writing is clear and the story captures our attention and imagination. If you're looking for another Hedgehog, this is probably as close as you'll come. Of course, if you haven't read Hedgehog (and you really should do), you might find less to criticize this book about than I did. However, the publishers might have made a small mistake in comparing the two, because once that's in your head, you can't help looking for how they measure up against each other. This is why I will give four out of five stars to this novel, and yet still recommend it.
"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George, is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.