The Little French Bistro
I hesitated buying this book. I had loved Nina George’s previous novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, but the synopsis of this one put me off a little. Then, because I loved that earlier one and was looking for something with charm to listen to driving to and from the lake this summer, I bought this one.
Good move, Barbara. Yes, it was heavy at the opening, as I feared from the synopsis. But once I got into it, I got INTO it.
The Little French Bistro is a love story, not only one of romantic love but even more of self-love. The central character is a woman who feels unloved by everything in the world, first and foremost by the man to whom she’s been married for forty years. Her despair is so great that she throws herself into the Seine, intent on drowning. After a good Samaritan thwarts that plan, she stumbles from one experience to the next until she lands on the northwest coast of Brittany, where, little by little she discovers a side of herself that she never imagined. Of course, there is still the husband to contend with, though the woman she has become is very different from the one who disappeared in Paris.
There are a lot of characters in The Little French Bistro, but they are wonderful and diverse. They are good people. And there is humor. The setting is every bit as flavorful as that in Ms. George’s earlier book. As the protagonist comes to appreciate the sounds and smells of the coast, as she connects with the water, so do we. There is a tiny element of the supernatural here, but it is done so lightly and works so well with the prose, that even die-hard realists won’t mind.
One late-plot twist involving the protagonist’s husband bothered me. I’m not sure I’d have written the story quite this way. But then, this wasn’t my book to write.
Another tiny element bothered me, and if any of you reading this review have thoughts on it, I could use your help. The title is The Little French Bistro. But is there an actual bistro in this book? I listened to the audiobook. Perhaps in a print edition the “restaurant” is occasionally called the “bistro.” Yes? No? I understand the author and/or publisher wanting to capitalize on the popularity of the first book by picking a comparable title, and “bistro” has more charm than the plain old “restaurant.” But as marketing ploys went, I felt this was too much.
Is The Little French Bistro too predictable, as some critics complained? I didn’t think so. The end had twists I did not expect. Still, if this book is viewed as a woman’s personal journey, yes, she does find herself. Does a happy ending make a book predictable? Or, conversely, do we need a tragic ending in order to be considered innovative?
Did I like The Little French Bistro as much as I liked The Little Paris Bookshop? Hard to judge. The two are different. One thing is for sure: This new one has a central theme of hope that sticks with me.