Sunday, 5 March 2017

#TheLittleBretonBistro by @Nina_George

The Little Breton Bistro

THE LITTLE BRETON BISTRO
NINA GEORGE 

Published by Abacus on 2nd  March 2017 in trade paperback, £12.99

An heart-warming story of romance and adventure - and a return to France - from the internationally bestselling author of The Little Paris Bookshop.

Marianne Messman longs to escape her loveless marriage to an uncaring husband - an artillery sergeant major named Lothar. On a day trip to Paris, Marianne decides to leap off the Pont Neuf into the Seine, but she is saved from drowning by a homeless man. While recovering in hospital, Marianne comes across a painting of the tiny port town of Kerdruc in Brittany and decides to try her luck on the coast.

In Kerdruc, Marianne meets a host of colourful characters who all gravitate around the restaurant of Ar Mor (The Sea). It is this cast of true Bretons who become Marianne's new family, and among whom she will find love once again. But with her husband looking to pull her back to her old life, Marianne is left with a choice: to step back into the known, or to take a huge jump into an exciting and unpredictable future.

MY REVIEW:

I absolutely adored "The Little Paris Bookshop" as I found within it my true vocation as a 'literary apothecary'! I have been eagerly anticipating Nina George's new book; holding my breath for another read which will transport me to a world full of delightful characters all created through warm and gentle prose.

The Little Breton Bistro fulfilled all my expectations. It was a real treat to turn over the first page and sink back into George's writing which like the course of the river Seine itself, steers its way along through the ebbs and flows of life; picking up characters, moments, decisions and swirling them around in a little eddy and undercurrent before delivering them to the awaiting ocean of possibility and hope.

I was delighted to be back in France for this second novel and once again enjoy the description of France. We start off in Paris:

"...the Eiffel Tower was but a dim silhouette in the hazy smog. Paris emitted a roar, with a constant rumble of scooters and cars and the murmur of Metro trains moving deep in the guts of the city."

But the opening of the book starts at an end; Marianne, our protagonist, wants to end her life. Today.

"Marianne decided to die. Here and now, down below in the waters of the Seine, late on this grey day. "

George spends several pages with Marianne and her careful, considered and diligent attempt to end her life. Marianne is sixty and feels life has passed her by as a succession of "unlived moments". I thought that was a hugely poignant phrase and very effective in capturing the character's feelings.

Obviously I loved the metaphor of books also used to illustrate her perception of her life:

"......A book waiting to be written: as a girl that was how she had seen her future life. Now she was sixty, and the pages were blank. Infinity had passed like one continuous day."

Beginning with Marianne's desire to end her life, and her contemplation of a life that feels wasted, allows the reader to form a bond with Marianne. We develop empathy for her as more is revealed about her life, home life and marriage. It is a slow start to the novel, like a pool of water gathering, filling with regret before gathering pace, overspilling and surging off on a current which pulls it along on a new journey.

Marianne is not the only character to be disillusioned with her life. Later on we meet Paul who says "the tragic thing about life expectancy" is that "you have more time to be unhappy", and then artist Yann who feels his life is "an empty canvas." But this story is not depressing; there is a sense of sadness but also a sense of inevitably from the characters- an acceptance that this is their lot. Then  George challenges this by throwing the characters together and allowing them to help each other. This novel shows us that it is never too late to find purpose, fulfilment, happiness and love.

But before we rush off toward the middle section of the book, I just wanted to acknowledge how George conveys things through a few carefully chosen descriptions. I liked the way Marianne tried to "ease off her wedding ring but didn't succeed" as if warning us that she would not end her life and could not escape her marriage. I liked the way she laid everything out beside her before jumping and what she hoped it might provide for someone:

"Someone was bound to find it and live for a few days fro the proceeds of pawning it. They could buy a baguette, a bottle of pastis, some salami; something fresh, not food from the bin for once."


There is something very unassuming and humble about Marianne. And then when she does jump, I loved the description as she tried to pull down her hem so that no one could see her bare legs. There was something quite emotional about this image and something which made me want to leap in after Marianne and drag her out. I do really like George's choice of imagery and the small details which say so much about the characters. 

Marianne also has a large birthmark; "a rare pigment disorder, shaped like fiery flames". The reference to this birthmark reminded me of Joanne Harris' writing and that hint or suggestion about magic. Something which seems so ugly and shameful to one person, but insignificant or even intriguing to another.  

Marianne escapes to Breton. A place where the people are "proud of their superstitions" and a place where the "land meets the sea; ...the end of the world." There really is something special about the sea and this is a recurring theme in the novel. Breton feels very separate from France and creates this unique place where the rules are slightly different, the attitudes refreshing and the perfect place for Marianne to reinvent herself and work out what it is she wants from life.

Now we are in the new town of Kerdruc, we meet Paul and Simon - whether there's a deliberate religious connotation or some kind of subtle spiritual reference to emphasise the theme of water, I'm not sure, but I did enjoy the introduction of new characters. I like the way the novel expands to include a wider cast of colourful characters and play out a broader range of emotional story lines.

So I'll leave you there and let you find out what happens to Marianne and her new found friends in Kerdruc. I'll let you watch and see whether the characters are brave enough to recognise the risks they need to take and to challenge themselves to change the way their life seems to have been written. I'll let you dwell on the pertinent observations, insights and relationships that grow between the characters. I'll leave you to enjoy it as much as I did!

This is a really satisfying read. It is as heartwarming as "The Little Paris Bookshop". It is a story that has just the right balance of sadness, adventure, drama and happiness. It's an easy read and if you like Claire King, Joanne Harris and Eleanor Brown, you will enjoy this.

"The Little Breton Bistro" is published on 2nd March by Abacus. 

THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP by NINA GEORGE

The Little Paris Bookshop

“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.”

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.


For my review of "The Little Paris Bookshop" - which I LOVED and gave 5*s! - please click here:

NINA GEORGE

Nina George

www.ninageorge.de
@nina_george

Born in 1973, Nina George is a journalist and the author of numerous bestselling novels, which have been translated into several languages. The Little Paris Bookshop was a phenomenal top five bestseller in Germany and is set to be published around the world. She is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg.

Nina is available for interview and to write features.  For more information please contact Hayley Camis on 0203 122 6082 | Hayley.Camis@littlebrown.co.uk

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

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