The Little Paris Book Shop – book review

The Little Paris Bookshop

Bear with me, while I enthuse about another wonderful book!

This little delight, called the Little Paris Bookshop is written by phenomenal Nina George and translated from German into English by the talented Simon Pare.

Nina George is a wonderful story teller, there are some sublime pieces of writing that simply stopped me in my tracks; given that this has been translated, I have to admire Simon Pare for being able to translate so beguilingly.

It is different from anything else I have read – but does bear a slight resemblance to Paulo Coelho – in that there is an air of wisdom that simply slips off the page and does your soul some good. However, I found the characters in this book more accessible than Coelho’s; they are more emotional and less remote.

and very, very lovable.

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If you like the idea of a book apothecary where books can offer solace to the soul for every heartache then this is the book for you.

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I have peppered this post with quotes from the book, but I could not include all the pencilled highlights and margin notes because there are too many.

This is a book about love, not the falling boy meets girl type of candy floss, but the hard edged, gut wrenching, soul destroying heartache of love’s ending and how to come out the other side alive.

It is also about healing, hope and friendship.

This is not a story to scan in one sitting – this is a book to savour, slow down – read and re-read. I wanted to bask in these pages, in the way that Perdu prescribes a book to one of his customers:

‘This book which you will please read slowly, so you can take occasional break. You’ll do a lot of thinking and probably a bit of crying. For yourself, For the years. But you will feel better afterwards. You’ll know that now you don’t have to die, even if that is how it feels because a guy didn’t treat you well. And you will like yourself again.’

I ended up reading with pencil in hand underscoring and writing in the margins. I rarely keep fiction books, but this one will sit on my shelf and I imagine will be dusted off and fingered through when I need the solace and comfort.

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I admit here, there was one point in the book that really did hit home. I took a break, cried a little but mostly I felt comforted because I was not the only person to suffer in that way. I felt no longer alone with that small, tiny, heartache. And I felt absolved of blame, that it wasn’t my fault – and it was healing.

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For all Perdu’s ability to look at a customer and reach into their souls, touch their pain and prescribe the book that will heal them, Perdu is lost, (it took me a while to notice but his name is French for lost!). He cannot heal himself.

When he can’t over come his pain he distracts himself by healing other people in the vain hope it will silence the aching wail inside him. Its like a sort of deal we do with ourselves. We want to avoid feeling or expressing the hurt because we are frightened.  Thus Perdu has been running is book apothecary for twenty years – sending customers off with books that soothe their troubled souls and mend their broken hearts. Only, it is he who needs the healing most of all.

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At some point in our lives we have to face the heartache inside us, examine and feel it. Overcome the fear that we will drown in our own tears and let our crying begin – only when we have done this can we start to piece ourselves back together.

Perdu faces his pain by reading a letter written by his lover twenty years ago before she left him. He has reduced his life so much, in order to protect himself from any form of human contact. But he is forced to read the letter and the tight constrains he has placed on his life begin to crumble – he runs away.

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Everyone is carrying some form of pain or other -this book offers hope.  You will discover that your pain is not unique, others suffer the same maladies, just the names, times and places are different.

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This is also a tale of friendship – not the superficial kind – passing acquaintances that we see regularly – but the true friendship that develops when you are prepared to strip yourself emotionally naked of the culture and masks we wear in society and show another soul our scars. Those are the friendships that matter and not a process we can do with hundreds of people – a handful is too many, if you have one or two then you are blessed.

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We see this happen with Perdu on his journey south, the fear of expressing his pain had him locked down where only the feint brush of a cat around his leg was the only tender contact he bear without fear of breeching his defences.

‘Habit is a vain and treacherous goddess. She lets nothing disrupt her rule. She smothers one desire after another; the desire to travel, the desire for a better job or a new love. She stops us living as we would like, because habit prevents us from asking ourselves wether we continue to enjoy what we do.’

I think that is a very profound truth, one that we can all do with pondering now and then. I know that fear hides in many of the limitations we place in our lives in order to be ‘safe’. While security is a good thing, a little bit of danger and adventure makes us feel more alive!

Perdu is writing a Great Encyclopaedia of Small Emotions on his journey, collecting different experiences and noting them down. It is our thinking, that frames not just what we believe about ourselves but our world, our experiences and ultimately our lives. Science is already showing the close connection between thoughts and the body, even to the point of suggesting that in order for a disease in the body to begin we activate the messages that send out a trigger. These small emotions, these little heartaches are the things that eat away at us, if we aren’t careful, affects our health.

Perdu begins to participate in life again, no longer hiding in the shadows, but opening himself up to friendship and then to love. He makes peace with his lost love – he firstly begins to say her name eventually, finding forgiveness in his heart not just for her but himself.

With all these quotes it might seem that this book is a hard tome to plough through, but it isn’t.

It is an easy story to read – a canal boat trip with friends at the very least.

The tale gently unfolds, like the pace along the river itself.

The wisdom drifts off the pages like a feather resting gently on your lap – for you to take up if you wish.

The Little Paris Bookshop-14Our experience shapes us forever, the people we meet every day, the interactions, misunderstandings and aggression that is all around us; life does sometimes feel like a battle.

The ultimate anti-dote for stress is reading,  an escape into worlds where usually wrongs are righted, justice prevails and we can all be heroes. For me, they have always been a lifeboat – a place of sanctuary.

I read as a child, taking comfort and adventure from other children’s lives; the famous five, ballet shoes and the Chronicles of Narnia.

Reading preserved my sanity when my children were small, I would take long baths with a book – so I did not get distracted by the housework piling up around me.

What has reading done for you?