Oh, my friends, I am on my way to falling in love. Move over Mr. Darcy; welcome to my heart, Monsieur Perdue. Tall, kind, intelligent and, yes, tortured, the main character of Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop is the very sort of philosopher who fascinates me. His finely-honed perceptive sense of the needs of another’s heart intrigues and opens mine. Just beyond his imagination is the poetic healing in the words of shared human interaction.
From within his beloved bookshop, Perdue quietly claims that his deep passion for the books he houses and sells rests within their potential as healers of life’s ills. They are the first-aid kit from which he readily creates courses of treatments for readers. Owner of the Literary Apothecary, a barge he fashioned into a bookstore with his own hands, the bookseller explains to a grandmother he’s just met that his desire is to let his books bring, “mainly in homeopathic doses,” a kind of therapy to others who may be suffering from the “major and minor ailments of existence.” Yes, I do believe I can sustain a love for this gentle man who finds pleasure using his gifts – decades analyzing the rhythms of language and comparing the voices and messages of authors – and his possessions – his “most useful” eight thousand books – listening to and advising others who have feelings and emotions that “no therapist is interested in.”
During business hours on the barge, Monsieur Perdu uses his considerable instincts to discern what’s troubling each soul he meets. He freely states: “It is a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.” Ah, but I sense potential for heartache: this courageous and tentative character, who intuits from his questions in a single, engaged conversation which of his books’ medicine might gentle another back to health, has no desire to correct what ails him. He believes himself too damaged by lost love to try. And it is his fear of opening his own heart to feeling again that will leave him unable to love me back. So sad . . . he has turned his own heart to stone, walled off his own soul. The liberation he enjoys nurturing in another is terrifying to Perdue.
“Books are like people, and people are like books” my bookseller states. He studies those who peruse his many shelves and wonders: “is he or she the main character in his or her life?” And I wonder will my Perdue discover the answer to that question about himself. Luckily, I’ve only known this interesting man for thirty pages; I have hope he will become loving and lovable before page 370. After all, Mr. Darcy is now a recovering brooder and snob. Surely all things are possible.
While I prepare to post this for you, I admit to smiling a little wistfully. What does my affection for this damaged, lovely man, alive only on the pages of a novel, say about me? Perhaps it says I’m hopeful, that I believe in the reclamation of Monsieur Perdue and others like him, and that I have the assurance that anyone who offers wonderful gifts to others cannot help but find the grace to offer a full, loving life to himself. Really . . . all things are possible, and I have another three hundred pages to witness something redemptive unfold.