What reader doesn’t like reading about books … or bookstores or libraries or authors, for that matter? I’m surprised, really, at how many I’ve read over the past year or two: A.J. Fikry, Small Blessings, Mill River Redemption, The Bookman’s Tale. Here are two recent releases, one about a powerful book and the other about a bookseller with remarkable gift.
The Little Paris Bookshop (NetGalley)
Monsieur Perdu’s bookshop Literary Apothecary was a re-purposed barge (replete with two bookstore cats), moored along the Seine. For a bookseller, Perdu was unusual—while a customer might come in looking for the latest best seller, they’d leave with a book that he chose for them, one that they needed. Perdu had a rare gift and could read his customers (I guess one could say) like a book; “transperception” his father called it. Armed with this sense, Perdu seeks to treat “feelings that are not recognized as afflictions … [like] the feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end … or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought … or those birthday morning blues …” And for each of the ailments, Perdu “prescribes” a book.
But as we read about Perdu’s gift of perception and learn a bit about his own inner life, we realize that Perdu himself is in need of some healing. A lost love haunts him, a new love beckons, and in a burst of resolve, he casts off the Literary Apothecary’s ropes, starts up her engine, and begins to motor into the harbor—with first one, then two, unexpected passengers.
The heart of Little Paris Bookshop pulls in the right direction. There are lyrical passages about reading and books (“Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see them purely in terms of stories … he saw freedom on wings of paper”) and toss-away mentions of contemporary novels (“The customer teetered on her smart high heels, but instead of offering her his hand, Perdu handed her The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”). But once Perdu’s bookshop becomes unmoored, the novel also begins to drift. Perdu motors down the Seine past Marseille (and also towards some healing and resolution) but it’s a winding affair that is sometimes failed to satisfy this reader. (I even wondered if something had been lost in translation.) But if you’re a bibliophile, by all means give Monsieur Perdu a chance.
The Book of Speculation (NetGalley)
St. Martin’s Press
In dilapidated house high on a bluff above Long Island Sound lives a lonely librarian, Simon Watson. His mother was a mermaid–a sideshow act who held her breath underwater for ten minutes–who drowned; his sister Enola is a tarot card reader in a carnival. One day a book arrives that changes his life, sent to him by an antiquarian bookseller by the name of Martin Churchwarry. The book is older than old–sixteenth century. Its pages are water damaged, filled with notes and sketches and a ledger. Churchwarry sent it on to Simon after finding his grandmother’s name inscribed in the cover.
As any good librarian would do, Simon begins to research the book’s original owner, a Mr. Hermelius Peabody, and connect the book to his own family. About the same time the book arrives, Enola and her sideshow boyfriend Doyle (The Electric Boy) show up—and maybe it’s not a coincidence that both occur around the anniversary of their mother’s drowning. Like most antique books that show up unbidden, this book has some powerful magic between its covers. As Simon connects the dots between his grandmother and mother and Enola and Peabody, he thinks maybe he can break the curse he’s sure has plagued his family.
In between connecting the dots on the family hex, Simon manages to lose his job, fall in love, and discover a terrible family secret—all this as his family home begins its descent over the bluff.
I had a fun time working my way through The Book of Speculation even though I know nothing about tarot cards (which feature largely in the story) or circus and carnival life. I think, again, it was the fact it was book about the power of a book that kept me reading.