The protagonist in the story is 50-something bookseller Jean Perdu, who owns a book barge called Lulu which goes by the name of the Literary Apocerathy. The author painted a lovely picture of the hussle and bussle of Paris with this serene book haven in its midst. But I found Jean just a little unlikeable. He has spent the last 21 years pining for Manon, the woman he met on a train and had a five year affair with even though she was married. She up and left him one day, leaving only a note that has sat unread in a drawer in a locked room in his apartment for 21 years. And yet Jean can't seem to get over her or have any closure. At first I found this romantic, thinking she was his great love, but as the story progressed I wanted to slap Jean Perdu across the face and say 'wake up and man up! read the goddam letter and get the hell over it!' If he had been pining for a year or 2, maybe 5 then I would have been more understanding, but 21 years of moping about and denying himself any happiness is just insane!
After what seemed like pages and pages of him moping, Jean just one day decides to pull up anchor on his barge and go off on a journey to the town where Manon was from. Here, I thought things would get exciting, and at times they did. But then it was an odd mix of Jean Perdu trying to the find the author of his favourite novel and the stories of a few random people he met along the way. At times, I had completely forgotten Manon altogether, but then just when you thought Jean Perdu was actually getting a life he went all depressing again and moped about Manon leaving him. (note to Jean Perdu- GET OVER IT).
Jean's accomplice in the story is Max Jordan, a young author whose first book shot him to stardom that he finds difficult to cope with, but even this character frustrated me with his 'oh woe is me I'm a best selling author with people willing to chew their own arm off to read my book'. I found him difficult to like and felt at times he just got in the way.
I know this all paints a very bleak picture of the novel, and I'm not saying it was bad or anything. In fact, I'm positive that others will read it and cement it as one of their all time favourites. Waterstone's recently named it their 'Book of the Month' and well those guys know what their talking about. But for me, what should have been a wonderfully romantic story about losing someone you love, turned into a confusing mix of characters that came and went but all the time Jean Perdu was just depressed. It didn't make me happy about life, it made me depressed and angry at the characters for making me feel like this for the whole duration that I read the novel.
On a positive note, I think the author is a very talented writer and can describe scenes very well especially the small details that really make a scene come alive. I would read another book by this author, but I'm afraid Jean Perdu just didn't do it for me.
You can buy a copy of The Little Paris Bookshop from Waterstones now.
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