Friday, June 23, 2017

New beginnings

Every second can mark a new beginning. Open your eyes and see: the world is out there and it wants you.
Nina George, The Little French Bistro

Memorize those lines from the middle of Nina George's The Little French Bistro and perhaps you can save yourself the trouble of reading this novel, which really isn't very good. All the book's wisdom is right there. The rest is just illustration and is less inspiring than you might think for a story about people remaking their lives.

The main character is Marianne, a 60-year-old German woman stuck in an unhappy marriage for most of her life. She runs away to Paris, planning to drown herself in the Seine. Rescued, she is put in a hospital, from which she escapes. Having seen an artist's rendering of the city of Kerdruc in Brittany, she decides to go there to complete her mission, that of killing herself.

Once in Kerduc, she encounters people who start transforming her into a new woman, one who is beautiful and admired and who has a place in the world, working in that little French bistro for a start. What's more, she meets and falls in love with that French artist whose work drew her to Kerdruc in the first place.

Meanwhile, other characters find their lives made over, as well. For a time the novel reads like a French version of the British movie Love Actually in which everybody finds love with somebody else. But then Marianne's husband, Lothar, tracks her down, and she must decide if the new Marianne can survive resuming life with the old Lothar.

The novel has its moments, but mostly it feels manufactured rather than authentic.

Readers may think The Little French Bistro is a sequel to The Little Paris Bookshop. In truth it is more the other way around. Bookshop was first published in Germany in 2013, with the English translation, which became a bestseller, appearing in 2015. Bistro appeared first in Germany in 2010, and the English version was published this month on the heels of Bookshop's success.

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