I picked this book up at an airport bookstore on my way home from visiting my parents earlier this month. I'd seen it on Instagram a few times, and it sounded really enjoyable. I generally like books about people who like books. No surprise there, right?
And I did like this book pretty well, overall. It's all about Jean, a 50-yr-old man who learns the real fate of the woman he loved and lost 20 years earlier, and works through his grief by travelling to her home in the French countryside. He owns and runs a bookshop on a barge in Paris, and he just takes off on his floating bookstore one day. His neighbor Max, a bestselling author who's trying to escape his rabid new fans, comes along for the ride.
They travel by river; they travel by car. They meet lots of interesting people, and they do a lot of soul-searching. And they both find the peace they're looking for. Also, they talk a lot about books and how they affect us. All of that, I liked. Jean was very likeable, and Max grew on me. By the end, Max may have been my favorite.
What I didn't like was the love story that Jean was trying to come to terms with and put behind him. Twenty years earlier, he had been in love with a woman named Manon. She was married, but her husband never came to Paris with her on her visits, and she spent those visits in Jean's bed. They carried on an adulterous affair for five years, and this is all supposed to be somehow just fine and understandable. Why? Because Manon simply could never be satisfied with sharing her life with only one man -- she was too large a spirit, or too varied a person, or something.
Toward the end of the book, I realized suddenly that Manon was essentially a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She was a plot device, only here to give Jean a reason to brood and mourn and search his soul for meaning or whatever. She was too much to be real. And the weird thing is, I tend to be fond of Manic Pixie Dream Girls. They usually don't bug me. I really love quirky, oddball characters, male or female. But Manon... bugged me. And a lot of that is because she insisted on adultery being her right, and she wrecked Jean's life and her husband's life in a lot of ways because she refused to see the meaning or power of contentment. Yet she's adulated and revered by the author, through the characters, and that left a really bad taste in my mouth.
So, in the end, I enjoyed this book. I cried at the end, in a good way. But it's not one I will reread or even recommend. I did really appreciate that it showed that love and romance are not only for hot people in their twenties, and that love and forgiveness are very closely interconnected. But, ultimately, I was not charmed the way I would like to have been.
Particularly Good Bits:
Memories are like wolves. You can't lock them away and hope they leave you alone (p. 5).
"Do you think only people in books do crazy things?" (p. 93).
Nobody would ever wise up if they hadn't at some stage been young and stupid (p. 129).
Reading -- an an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind. Max had set out on that journey. With each book he would absorb more of the world, things and people (p. 142).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R. It has a lot of sex scenes, some of them semi-graphic and some of them not. They creep up on you and ambush you with little warning, getting woven into the story in a way that makes them very hard to see coming. I did a lot of, "Oh! Oh my. Skim skim skim skim skim... I think it's safe now?" kinds of reading, which was annoying.
This was my 40th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.