Pretentious, melodramatic and excruciating. I’m sorry to say I found this book something of a trial and would have given it to a charity shop after 50 pages had it not been for the fact that it’s my book club choice for July and I felt I should persevere.
The book tells the tale of Monsieur Jean Perdu, owner of the ‘Literary Apothecary’, a floating bookshop on the Seine. Monsieur Perdu is middle-aged, single and believes he can cure people’s emotional needs by talking to them and recommending a suitable book. Feel ill yet? I did.
Jean lives in an apartment at 27 Rue Montagnard. A young novelist called Max Jordan, who has written a book about the inner lives of men and their frailties, also lives in the building. One day, an attractive divorcee named Catherine moves into the building, she has no furniture and in finding a spare table to give to her, Jean opens up a room and part of his life that has not been examined for 20 years.
Although he seems expert at helping others with their emotional pains, Jean has hidden an old trauma from which he has not recovered; a former lover called Manon. In attempting to find some redemption and meaning, Jean and Max go on a metaphorical and physical voyage on the book barge (Literary Apothecary is an appalling name).
The ensuing journey heaps emotion, melodrama and wincingly bad prose and scenes into a slag-heap of regrets, creepy decades-long fixations, tears and catharsis. Fierce emotion and wholly unbelievable dialogue abounds. Jean recalls conversations he had with his lost love, Manon, who said to him;
Who knows Jean, you and I might be made of the dust from one and the same star, and maybe we recognised each other by its light. We were searching for each other. We are star seekers.
In my notes I simply wrote ‘FFS’.
At as top on the journey they enter a garden where there is a lady painting. She is naked apart from a hat. Without introduction or explanation the lady asks Max to play the piano. When asked her name she says;
Forget about names. There’s no need for them here. Her we can call ourselves whatever we want.
At a stop in Avignon it is noted that Jean does not like the place;
This city didn’t appeal to Jean; it seems to him like an hypocritical whore, living off her past papal glories.
Seriously, who thinks like that? “How was your trip to Weston-Super-Mare Dave?”
“Well the kids had a good time, but I think of Weston as a haughty dowager duchess, resentful of the youth and vitality of others.”
It’s not right is it.
Whilst I might be happy to tell people how this book made my teeth grind and the flesh creep up my spine, I could not recommend this to anyone, ever.