This was a delightful, heart-warming novel about the power of books to inspire, offer reflections upon life and people as well as escapism, and above all heal those who read them – especially if a person reads the right one. Enter the protagonist, Monsieur Perdu, a rather lost man who owns a floating bookshop on the Seine, a barge named Lulu, filled with 8000 books, which he gallantly tries to match to the right reader. You see, Perdu has a gift: calling himself the “literary apothecary”, he is able to find the exact book to cure almost any ailment or agitation of the heart and soul.
Despite his gift for connecting stories and readers, Perdu cannot help himself or heal the broken heart he stubbornly nurses. A lonesome creature, he lives in a barren apartment, trapped in the past and the memories of the free-spirited and magnificent Manon, a married woman with whom he had a passionate affair over twenty years earlier and who left him with nary an explanation, only a letter which he has never read, he endures.
It is not until an attractive neighbour, Catherine, convinces him to read Manon’s letter that he uproots himself, his barge and sails along the southern waterways of his country, determined to discover the whole story of which he possesses only the beginning and an end. Accompanied by a young bestselling author, Max Jordan, besieged with crippling doubt and unable to embark on his next work, and two contrary cats, Perdu encounters others on his journey, including a lovelorn Italian chef who becomes an intrinsic part of the motley crew.
Perdu spends months cruising the rivers and learning more stories, dispensing books like currency as well as medicine, and encountering folk who challenge, embrace, and accept him. Passing through remote and popular villages, he’s encouraged to participate in rituals, traditions, dine at tables with families and, after so much water under the bridge (pun intended) step up and into the kind of life he only ever knew through his beloved books. As a consequence, Perdu undergoes a physical, emotional and psychological transformation, literally fleshing out his yet-to-be-completed story that ceased when Manon left.
I thoroughly enjoyed this love-story/coming of middle age tale and the characters that people it as well as the wonderful cross-references to other literature, classical, contemporary and everything in between.