Oh my, what an incredible book. It is a roller coaster of emotion, from smiles, giggles and laughs all the way through to crying your eyes out and feeling heartbroken. Although i’m sure there are people who can read this book and never feel a thing, which is entirely possible if you refuse to surrender yourself to the story and characters, but then what’s the point in reading a book if not to surrender to it completely?
Characters: There isn’t one awful character, everyone in this book is nice, or funny in some way, even the grumpy lock keepers and their moustachioed wives with dogs that wee on Max’s hands bring a smile or giggle to you. And that’s what makes this book so hard to take in places, you can fall in love with the characters and feel for them so completely. Other books have those nasty characters, the evil ones to balance the good, and that holds you in balance and never lets you fly off into the good characters so much, this book doesn’t hold you back from that.
Places: Nina is a genius when it comes to putting you into a place, a room, even a simple field. The way she describes tastes, textures, sounds, sights, smells, makes it all feel like a dream you are in. She never overdoes it, and always when the story needs it.
Emotions: You feel them along with the characters as you are taken into their lives. So many haven’t loved for 21 years (or there abouts). 21 seems like the magic number in this book. You have to go 21 years without love to be a main character in this book. But none of it ever seems unreal, just a coincidence. This book is about losing, about finding, about tragedy, about love, about dying, about living, its got the most wonderful high moments and most heartbreaking lows.
Story: The best bit. And that’s the bit where i will use the last book i read to draw a few comparisons.
This was my second reading of this book, having last read it just over 2 years ago before i started writing reviews.
One thing i remember when reading it last time was that it reminded me of Heart of Darkness and so the plan was to wait a couple of years and then come back to it having read Heart of Darkness immediately before and then write a review of both books and see if there were any similarities.
These two books are so similar, yet so very different. The template is definitely there, that of the river boat voyage, the bizarre encounters along the way and the deeply emotional journey of our boat captains. We begin one sitting on the Thames in London while the other begins sitting on the Seine in Paris. A description of companions ensues before we are taken on our voyages. And there’s where they differ.
In HoD we are on a voyage up river into the centre of the land, into the darkness and ignorance of man’s soul and what he’s truly capable of at his worse. While in TLPB we are on a voyage down river to the sea, into the light and opening up of a man’s soul from 21 years of darkness and ignorance, and we’re shown what people are truly capable of at their best.
Whereas in HoD we have Kurtz and his fiance, in TLPB we have Luc and Manan’s diary.
The final conversation with Kurtz in HoD is replaced in TLPB with the final entry in Manan’s diary, while Luc replaces the crazy Russian.
The bizarre encounters along the banks are quite awful episodes in HoD as they expose Marlow to ever more wrong, and dim the light ever further, while in TLPB the bizarre encounters along the banks expose Jean to ever more right, and turn on the light ever brighter.
And the pilgrims on the boat in HoD are replaced in TLPB with a runaway writer, a cook, and another writer who has been waiting for the love of her life to turn up; while the cannibals are replaced with 2 cats.
And no, i have no idea if Nina has even read Heart of Darkness, maybe she has, maybe she hasn’t. And even if she has, was that any influence on The Little Paris Bookshop? I could write and ask, but i simply love the not knowing because it really doesn’t matter. What mattered was that the first time i read TLPB i could barely remember reading HoD, it had been decades, and both were read while under the influence of alcohol, numbed, but this time i decided to read them one immediately after the other and i have been sober for 22 months. This time i wasn’t numbed by alcohol and really felt both books, i really felt that i read them both, and i really felt that they complemented each other in so many ways.
To be taken right into the depth’s of Charles Marlow’s darkness in HoD and be left hanging there at the end only to go immediately to the depths of Jean Perdu’s darkness in Paris and be then taken back into the light was quite the literary journey, and definitely one i would very much recommend for anyone looking for a true roller-coaster experience.
But however, and whatever, you want to read, just make sure The Little Paris Bookshop is on your “To Read” pile — everyone should read this book.
I have also read The Little Breton Bistro but like my first reading of The Little Paris Bookshop i wasn’t writing reviews at the time either. But i assure you, it’s also a wonderful book. And Nina’s latest book, The Book of Dreams is now out, which i’ll most certainly get around to as soon as i’ve re-read The Little Breton Bistro.