The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for disappointment

Those who have lost faith will identify with Jean Perdu, the lost soul at the heart of Nina George's novel

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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Disappointment

Cure: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

People who are disappointed by life often become cautious in their middle years. They live half-heartedly, treading water but rarely taking any risks for fear of what further disappointments may ensue. If you find you have lost your faith that things will turn out for the best, you'll probably identify with Jean Perdu, the lost soul at the heart of Nina George's novel – a best-seller in its native Germany. Accompany him on his journey and you may well find yourself seeing things in a more positive light.

Fifty-year-old Perdu runs a bookshop on his lovingly renovated barge on the Seine, from which – in a pleasingly dramatised version of this column – he dispenses cures for all kinds of ailments in literary form. Perdu has an uncanny knack for knowing which novels will help his customers – and which they should avoid. But his own life is a mess. Still swathed in disappointment after a failed love affair 20 years before, he lives in a bare, miserable apartment and the only people he sees are his customers. But when, catalysed by reading a letter that has lain unopened for 20 years, he unmoors his barge and heads upstream in the direction of Provence, things start to shift.

More by accident than design, he takes a young blocked novelist named Max along with him – a bestselling author seeking to escape his public – as well as a handful of other strays. Of course, their journey isn't merely physical. As minds and bodies mutate with the sunshine, Perdu gradually makes sense of his past – and the circumstances that led to his disappointment – and begins to forgive himself.

It's a sentimental story, but charming nevertheless. Submit to its ambling pace. Find a barge of your own, real or metaphorical, and let the sensual pleasures of life (food, wine, physical intimacy) lead you towards forgotten friends – and new beginnings.