I'll start out by saying that this book took me a loooong time to read. It's not very lengthy; I can only say that I don't consider it time wasted spending weeks picking it up and putting it down. It's the type of book that is meant to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and with a box of tissues at the ready. Oh, and since it takes place in France, and the characters drink wine pretty much every day...well, stock up on some bottles before you begin this touching, lovely, quietly powerful book.
Jean Perdu lives in an apartment building in Paris inhabited by an eclectic group of people. The latest resident is Catherine, a middle aged woman who has been dumped by her husband for a younger woman. She spends her days crying in her apartment. Perdu is mildly curious, but only in the way he can give her a book that will help her heal. Yes, Perdu owns a book barge moored on the Seine, and he's a literary apothecary. Seriously, a man after my own heart.
But while Perdu can diagnose and recommend the perfect book for each person who steps onto his barge, he himself is closed off from love, living, and moving on with his life. Twenty years before, in 1992, the love of his life, Manon, left him for her husband. They had been having an affair for five years, and their time spent together was magic. Manon had traveled to Paris before she married her fiance Luc, in hopes of seeing something more than the small village in which she was born and raised. Luc, being the good, decent man she couldn't say no to, accepted this life she had in Paris with Perdu. Not being able to give up either man, Manon found love with both men.
Until one day Manon left, and never returned. Perdu, bereft, refused to contact her again, closed off the room in his apartment where they spent all their time together, and stopped living. Until Catherine came along. She was in dire need of furniture for her apartment, and Perdu reluctantly offers up his kitchen table. By opening up the forgotten room, memories come flooding back. Catherine finds a letter in a drawer of the table, and Perdu realizes Manon left him one last, final letter. He reads the letter.
This sets Perdu off on his book barge, floating down the rivers of France to find Manon's village, and put the past to rest. So many unexpected things happen on this journey I can't even begin to tell you, and I wouldn't anyway. It would spoil the whole story. Needless to say, you will laugh, cry (a lot!), and witness the healing power of books, forgiveness, and love. If you're lucky, you'll have a life blessed with all three things. Join Perdu and his friends on a pretty remarkable journey.
This novel was first published in Europe before it made its way to the U.S. You really must read it slowly, and savor the language. It is simply beautiful and so full of color and power that you'll need to take a deep breath. Lush and lovely.
Rating: 8/10 for a novel that will break your heart and lift you up all at once.
Available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook.