“Little Paris Bookshop” and “Crazy Rich Asians”
When I started this blog, one of my goals was to create a space to talk about good writing. Books, primarily. But also magazine and newspaper articles, TV shows, movies–anything I felt was worth a discussion. This led me to create the page “What I’m Reading” or “Let’s Talk About Books,” which ended up being a huge list of books. I’m a list-maker, so for me it’s great to have a big list of all the books I’ve read. But the page looked too intimidating to actually read, so I have taken it down, and I’m re-evaluating how to continue it.
In the meantime, I’m still reading, and these are my two latest: “Little Paris Bookshop” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
This is my book club’s selection for October, and if not for book club, I would have tossed this one aside after the first few chapters. The writing is overwrought and so full of pain for a lost love that the main character cannot even speak the name–instead there is a literal blank space in the text. That would be Jean Perdu, whose heart was broken when his lover left him (for her husband) nearly 20 years ago, and since that time he has withdrawn. He keeps himself locked away from the world, just like he boarded up rooms in his sparse apartment. Then we learn that his lover wrote him a letter–which he refused to open.
Okay, cue the needle scratch. He’s had an unopened letter for 20 years? Seriously? What an idiot–so in love with his own suffering that he doesn’t even read the letter? But now he finally he reads the letter and discovers the real reason she left him (by this time we can finally speak her name: Manon), and on a whim, he decides to take off for her hometown.
And he takes off in his bookshop. Because the title of the book is misleading–a “little Paris bookshop” sounds like a tiny place around the corner. It’s actually a barge, where he sells books like a pharmacist dispensing medication:
“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.”
As the barge travels south down the canals through France, Jean is joined by Max, a young writer with a blockbuster first book who now suffers from writer’s block. Along the way they trade books for food, take a tango break, and gaze at the stars. We also get excerpts from Manon’s diary, who sounds more like a child and less like the woman Jean loved.
I was relieved to see some character development–both Jean and Max grow and change. But that couldn’t outweigh the heavy emotional writing and the cliches. In the end I was rolling my eyes. Manon’s first husband actually slugs Jean–after 20 years? Why? And Catherine waits for him? No way. I was glad when the book was over. Can’t wait for the book club discussion!
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
After slogging through “Little Paris Bookshop” I wanted a fun read, and this is definitely a fun read. Oh my, welcome Singapore, a world of family fortunes, backstabbing gossip, and Chinese traditions. Mix in the private jets, couture clothing, and temperature-controlled closets for your fine leather goods. Somewhere in there is a story:
Singaporean Chinese “blue blood” Nick takes his American Chinese girlfriend Rachel home, his family is concerned that, yes, she might be a gold-digger, but their suspicions are heightened by the fact that she was – to their horror – born in mainland China, to a single mother.
It might be helpful to print out the family tree, so you can keep track of characters like Nick’s mother, Eleanor, who tries to sabotage Nick’s expected proposal, his father, Philip, who lives in Sydney to get away from all the crazy, and his cousin Astrid, who discovers her husband is cheating on her. Then there are Nick’s old girlfriends, plus cousins, plus his best friend Colin and his fiancee, Araminta.
Every scene is packed with luxury and designer goods, and it’s over the top. But it is a fun read.
Did you read these books? What are your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments section.
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