Book Review: The Little Breton Bistro, by Nina George

Publisher:  Abacus (Little Brown Book Group)

Publication date:  2nd March 2017

the-little-breton-bistro-my-review

You can’t change dreams; you can only kill them – and some of us are very good murderers.

the-little-breton-bistroThe Little Breton Bistro is a place where delicious food and great companionship are served with free life assistance. It plays host to the great recital of life, where some folks are lucky enough to hit the right notes while others find only the flats, the sharps, or those bum ones that weren’t supposed to be heard out loud.

Firstly ignore the pretty facade of the cover for a moment, inside people’s lives are crumbling. Its opening chapter is a pretty grim introduction to Marianne as it walks us through the conviction of her decision to end things. Instantly I found myself standing on a bridge beside a woman as the final little details of her life played out in readiness for her leap into the river Seine; the shedding of her coat, her wedding ring, her entire life.

At this stage I already knew I wasn’t a reader any longer but a witness, powerless to intervene. I suddenly wanted to know everything about Marianne and who had driven her to such a dark place and left her there, emotionally ill-equipped and alone.

Cue fate’s invisible hand in the guise of a ceramic tile made by the hand of an artisan in Port de Kerdruc. Marianne discovers this strangely alluring article in the hospital after she follows through with her decision to jump.

I won’t lie, I felt sad knowing her intentions hadn’t changed but also oddly encouraged as the humble tile maps out a curious destiny. She ups and leaves with only the clothes on her back (allowing the painted tile to guide her) and quickly experiences a religious encounter in the form of a nun on the bus, becomes a stowaway aboard a fishing boat, and is mistakenly offered a job as a trainee chef. There are too many tender, agonising, or entertaining exploits to mention, but each one is vital, poignant, and determined to set her free in one way or another to rediscover the woman that had already died; a bright, intoxicating spirit her forty-one years of marriage had snuffed out.

The cast of equally challenged locals embrace the arrival of this unassuming woman until she is revived by their well-intended interference, and in return so are they. Apprehension prevents many people in this novel from opening their hearts to the possibility of happiness or even recognising it at times, especially when it’s staring them in the face. But a gentle nudge from someone who cares could give you the courage to run towards something rather than from it.

The underlying message of The Little Breton Bistro is universal in any language; while we remain intent on channelling our emotional efforts in the wrong direction we’re essentially forgetting how to live, only succeeding in losing a little bit more of ourselves along the way.

Rating:  4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for approving my Netgalley request to read this title, for which I am delighted to provide this unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Marianne Messman, a housewife, wants to escape her loveless marriage and an uncaring and unfeeling husband of 35 years [Note: review copy says 41 years]. Marianne and her husband (army sergeant major Lothar) take a trip to Paris, during which Marianne leaps off the Pont Neuf into the Seine, but she is saved from drowning by a homeless man. Angered by her behaviour, major Lothar takes a coach trip back home to Germany, expecting that a psychologist will escort Marianne home a few days later. However, Marianne comes across a hand-painted scene of the tiny port of Kerdruc in Brittany, and becomes fixated with the place. Marianne decides to make her way to Kerduc, and once there meets a host of colourful characters who all gravitate around the small restaurant of Ar Mor (The Sea).

It is this cast of true Bretons who become Marianne’s new family. She finds love and passion with Yann, an artist who becomes her guide to the secrets of Brittany. Before long, Marianne’s husband is back to retrieve her and Marianne feels pulled towards her old life by way of duty and guilt. She leaves Kerduc and gets as far as Paris before she realises it’s now or never when it comes to building the life she really wants.

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the-little-breton-bistro-author-profile

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Born 1973 in Bielefeld, Germany, Nina George is a prize-winning and bestselling author (“Das Lavendelzimmer” – “The Little Paris Bookshop”) and freelance journalist since 1992, who has published 26 books (novels, mysteries and non-fiction) as well as over hundred short stories and more than 600 columns. George has worked as a cop reporter, columnist and managing editor for a wide range of publications, including Hamburger Abendblatt, Die Welt, Der Hamburger, “politik und kultur” as well as TV Movie and Federwelt. Georges writes also under three pen-names, for ex “Jean Bagnol”, a double-andronym for provence-based mystery novels.

In 2012 and 2013 she won the DeLiA and the Glauser-Prize. In 2013 she had her first bestselling book “Das Lavendelzimmer”, translated in 27 languages and sold more than 500.000 copies.

To read the full author biography please visit Nina George’s website or Goodreads.

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OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR:

The Little Paris Bookshop: My review was published on 28th April 2015.

The Little Paris Bookshop

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The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Publisher: Abacus (Little Brown) | Published 23rd April 2015 | This GORGEOUS edition: Paperback (review copy)

The cover of the prettiest book: The Little Paris Book Shop

Affairs of the heart? At a crossroad in your career? Hop aboard Jean Perdu’s Literary Pharmacy: there’s a book to cure almost everything.

A delightful and quirky story about Monsieur Jean Perdu’s Literary Apothecary: a barge moored on the river Seine.

He’s a bookseller with a difference – he only sells books to customers that he believes they NEED, not always what they came in to buy. His recommendation, or ‘diagnosis’, is made after a brief consultation aboard the floating bookshop – it’s a unique gift he possesses, you see.

There’s just one problem – Monsieur Perdu cannot heal himself. For over twenty years he has lived alone in his apartment trying to forget his lost love and by doing so, he has also forgotten how to live.

I see that I have grown old without noticing. How time has passed. All that damn lost time.

The writer’s descriptions of Jean’s neighbours conjure an immediate presence of them. All of the tenants are unique characters it seems, but none more-so than the new arrival, Catherine, who has nothing, not even a stick of furniture to her name. Even so, she appears to have piqued the bookseller’s interest.

The discovery of a lost letter that had been tucked away in an old drawer of a dusty table Monsieur Perdu loans to Catherine causes the bookseller to do something completely unthinkable – he cuts the ties of the book pharmacy to make personal pilgrimage and confront his past.

Along the way, he picks up a few waifs and strays and with only books to use as currency, their antics are challenging and bizarre, but are balanced with carefully placed wit.

During the journey the odd crew has time for a lot of soul searching. But what will Jean Perdu find when he reaches his destination, and will it be the medicine he so badly needs for to help him to heal?

For all his quirks and failings, it would be hard not to warm to the lonely bookseller. He and his neighbour (and uninvited crewmate), Max, a panicking debut author who is suffering from ‘second-book’ syndrome, had a great rapport – some of the exchanges between them were priceless.

My diagnosis:

‘The Little Paris Bookshop’ is such a wonderful tale of love, life and loss, with plenty of literary references for every possible ailment. Perhaps I will find myself recommending Monsieur Perdu’s story to others, as it is also heart-warming and thoughtful:

…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 – Monsieur Jean Perdu

Rating: 4/5

(My sincere thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this GORGEOUS book for review. It really is a marvel – and one of the prettiest covers I’ve seen in a while!)


You can follow the author on Twitter: @nina_george | Publisher: AbacusBooks