This was one of the books I received for my birthday, and I wanted to get started with it right away. The cover and title incorporates two of my great loves: Paris and books. I know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but I always do, and this cover doesn’t disappoint. It has a timeless and vintage feel about it, and of course looks very beautiful.
Originally written and published in German in 2013, we are lucky enough now to have a translated version, by Simon Pare, published this summer. However, it doesn’t read like a translated book. In fact the translation needs to be praised. It reads beautifully, like a song. The prose is delicate yet incredibly moving. There are also some incredibly humorous parts in the novel. The description of the Seine brought all my own memories from my trip back, showing how realistic the description is.
The novel centres on Monsieru Perdu. French translation = Mr Lost. This sums up the majority of the novel and Perdu himself. He is completely lost and in search of the resolution he desperately needs.
However, in terms of his work, he is more than a book seller. He calls himself the literary apothecary.
“There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”
His floating bookstore in a barge on the river Seine is where he describes books for the problems of daily life. He has a talent, and after speaking to visitors to his boat, Perdu mends the broken hearts and souls of his guests by prescribing books. He is pictured as refusing to sell a certain book to a lady, because she isn’t ready for it. This is when he meets Max Jordan, the famous writer of one novel, who has become blocked and seeks relief from his swarm of followers.
“That customer didn’t need Night right now. She couldn’t have coped with it. The side effects are too severe.”
The twist in the tale, so to speak, is that Perdu is unable to heal himself through literature. His life is marred and haunted almost by his great love, Manon, who disappeared, only leaving in with a letter, that he has refused to open for 21 years. It lies hidden, within his very sparse flat. The description of his own living space actually made me feel incredibly sad. There is virtually nothing there. The characters who show the most life at this stage are his two cats, Kafka and Lindren.
Catherine arrives on the scene, damaged herself from a relationship that went wrong. After meeting Catherine, who finds his letter, he is persuaded into opening it. He cannot believe what he has read, so he hauls anchor and leaves with Max, on a mission to the south of France. He has hopes of making peace with his loss, to find himself and who he really is, and to heal himself in order to discover the end of his own story. Max too, has high hopes of gathering material for his next novel.
Whilst on their travels in the boat, they come across a number of interesting people and places. The description is just divine. I felt like I was on this journey with them. They have dealings with the police, spend some time with Anke, Ida and Corinna, meet some Brits when the boat ended up across the river and the wrong way round. Having little money, Perdu traded books for essentials that they needed. It seems to me, quite a delightful way of doing business.
“Ahoy, you book paramedics. Doing some crazy cruising there!”
One of the most interesting characters they meet for me is Cuneo. He becomes the chef of the group. He creates the most stunning dishes that got my own mouth watering through the description. A lovely little touch at the end of the novel, is a selection of the recipes provided for us to recreate the magic at home. This really is a nice touch, and again for me, another love (baking/cooking).
Their journey calmly continues, but is abruptly brought to shock as the men witness a woman swirling about in a raging storm in the sea. They haul her in and we learn she is called Samantha, she actively fell in on purpose and wanted to feel alive. For me, she is presented as being the female version of Perdu. Their interaction is significant within the novel – but I won’t reveal too much here!
“I wanted to know what it felt like to jump into the river in this weather. The river looked so interesting, like soup gone wild. I wanted to know if I’d feel afraid in that soup or if my fear would tell me something important.”
A short while after Perdu decides he needs to find himself on his own. Max meets a girl, falls in love and eventually finds inspiration for writing in a new form. For Perdu he needs to follow his journey to find peace within himself. One thing he does realise is that he needs Catherine in his life, and thankfully she feels the same.
“I don’t know if it’ll work out or if we can avoid hurting each other. Probably not, because we’re human. However, what I do know now, now that this moment I have craved has arrived, is that it’s easier to fall asleep with you in my life. And to wake up. And to love.”
The end of the journey circles back to his original love, Manon and her husband. They meet, and without revealing too much of the story, Perdu is healed and able to move onto a new relationship. Max has published a new story that is doing well and the novel ends tied up in a neat little bow, dusted with happiness.
Whilst Perdu is essentially telling this story, there are also two other strands of narration via letters. There are the letters of Perdu and Catherine. As well as this, there is also the diary style of Manon. I appreciated that her chapters has titles and a different font. She is an interesting character and appears to show no mercy. However she acts for others, but this is not revealed until near the close of the novel.
“I came because you went.”
I really enjoyed this novel. It’s had to place it in a particular genre. There’s food, travel, healing, love, death, hurt and of course books. Some famous writers are also dropped within the narrative e.g. Orwell and Wilde. My only criticism is that there were a lot of characters, whom I really liked, but they were only fleeting. I wanted more time with them, but then the book would have been criticised for being incredibly long! The relationship between Max and Perdu I did like, they become close like father and son which is incredibly touching.
As well as the recipes at the end, there is also ‘Jean Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy from Adams to Von Arnim’. Here there is a list of books, what they treat and a list of possible side effects. Again, I saw this as a lovely touch and another reason to make this novel stand out from the crowd.
My only wish, and curiosity almost, is that I could visit and be recommended a book from the magic healer. Maybe in my dreams, or imagination?